Gianfranco Zola says Chelsea must unite to reignite stuttering season

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Gianfranco Zola says Chelsea must unite to rectify their stuttering season ahead of a crucial run of fixtures.

The FA Cup holders host Manchester United in the fifth round on Monday evening, before the second leg of their Europa League tie with Malmo and next Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.

Maurizio Sarri’s men then welcome London rivals Tottenham to Stamford Bridge hoping to boost their chances of Champions League qualification having dropped out of the Premier League top four after last weekend’s 6-0 thrashing by champions City.

The heavy defeat against Pep Guardiola’s side followed a 4-0 loss at Bournemouth in the club’s previous away game.

Asked if Chelsea’s players are demonstrating sufficient desire to turn things around, assistant coach Zola replied: “Of course. Nobody is pleased when you lose games the way we did recently. Not only the players, but the coaches and everyone.

“It’s a moment when we’ve been alternating the results, going from one good performance to a bad one. We don’t like.

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“We have to be consistent. We all know this, and it’s important everyone understands the situation and is working on it: coaches, players and club. This is important. The unity facing the challenge will make the difference.”

Chelsea bounced back from their nightmare trip to the Etihad Stadium by securing a slender 2-1 aggregate lead in the first leg of their European tie with Malmo.

Sarri’s players were given the day off on Friday after arriving back in the UK in the early hours.

The Italian will hope the rest reaps the desired reward as he prepares for what could be a season-defining period, starting with the visit of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reinvigorated United team in a repeat of last season’s FA Cup final.

“We know it’s a crucial moment. We have some very important matches,” added Zola.

“It’s an important moment, very challenging. The key will be to face each task only thinking about that particular task.

“The first will be United, and we come into this game after a good performance in the Europa League. That’s the most important thing. Then we’ll think about City and Tottenham.”

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Former Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui open to Premier League offers

Sport360 staff 16/02/2019
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Julen Lopetegui

Former Real Madrid and Spain coach Julen Lopetegui confirmed he is open to offers from clubs in the Premier League.

The Spaniard is without a club since he was fired as Madrid boss following a string of poor results that was topped by a 5-1 thrashing in El Clasico at the hands of Barcelona.

Lopetegui regards the Premier League as one of the best leagues in the world and is keen to experience it from the touchlines.

“A coach needs to be open for the future, but if I can choose, I prefer to be in the best leagues,” he told BBC Sport.

“England is a fantastic league. When you watch a match in England, you can feel the atmosphere, the respect for the players and the coaches, this is very important. I want to feel that.

“Of course, Spain is a fantastic league too, with fantastic players and coaches, but we will see.”

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Pep Guardiola right to be wary of Rodney Parade pitch ahead of FA Cup clash

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Newport manager Michael Flynn admits Pep Guardiola is right to be wary of the Rodney Parade pitch he will encounter for Manchester City‘s FA Cup visit.

The surface, which is also used by rugby outfits Dragons and Newport RFC, is showing heavy signs of wear and tear despite being part-synthetic.

With the Wales women’s national team also making the ground their home, Rodney Parade has already staged over 60 football and rugby matches this season.

“The pitch will suit us more than them,” Flynn said ahead of Newport’s first FA Cup fifth-round appearance for 70 years.

“I’m glad it will because it gives us more of a chance than if we had to go to the Etihad. But let’s not blame the pitch or look for excuses. We’ve got to play out there as well.

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“These players have a knack of rising to the occasion and they are a fantastic group.”

Guardiola has been made fully aware of the potential problems his Premier League leaders could face in south Wales on Saturday evening.

But the Spaniard denied rumours at his pre-match press conference that the City groundstaff had deliberately churned up a training pitch to help the side’s preparations.

“We have to adapt,” said Guardiola. “It is what it is and we accept that challenge. We played in the Premier League against Tottenham after NFL games.

“We’ll see what the pitch is like when we arrive. If you cannot play (the normal game), you have to play longer or quicker – but I don’t know. We are going to see.

“You don’t win absolutely anything complaining about that. When we play away, they are the owners of their stadium and they can play the pitch what it is.”

Newport are 82 places below English champions City on the league ladder, with the two clubs residing in different worlds.

The transfer value of City’s most recent starting XI was estimated at £465million, compared to the £50,000 of League Two Newport.

But the Exiles are well-versed in the act of giant-killing, with Leeds, Leicester and Middlesbrough all FA Cup victims at Rodney Parade over the last 14 months.

Asked if his side could conjure up another shock, Flynn replied: “Of course there can (be a shock). Otherwise I’d just turn up, give them the game and say ‘Let’s shake hands’ and walk off.

“Who said we were going to draw with Tottenham last season or beat Leicester, Leeds and Middlesbrough.

“If we win this, whether it’s extra time or penalties, and I don’t care how we do it, it will be the biggest shock in FA Cup history.

“But I want to give the supporters something to cheer about and these players have to believe, which I know they do, that they can cause an upset.”

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