Expectations high for Higuain

Zola tips on-loan striker to be an instant hit for Chelsea; believes team will help him get goals

Chelsea Gonzalo Higuain reacts ahead of the Carabao League Cup semi final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge stadium in London on Jan 24, 2019.
Chelsea Gonzalo Higuain reacts ahead of the Carabao League Cup semi final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge stadium in London on Jan 24, 2019.PHOTO: EPA - EFE

LONDON • Chelsea assistant manager Gianfranco Zola has backed Gonzalo Higuain to make an instant impact at Stamford Bridge as the Argentinian striker prepares for his Chelsea debut.

Higuain joined the club on loan from Juventus last Thursday and could make his first appearance for the Blues in the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Sheffield Wednesday today.

"There are players who need to be rested and it could be an opportunity," Zola told reporters on Friday.

The 31-year-old was at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea's League Cup semi-final win over Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday, but had not completed his move in time to be registered for that match.

If Higuain does start against second-tier Wednesday at the Bridge, he would likely take the place of Olivier Giroud, who has scored just once in his last 12 appearances.

Giroud and Spaniard Alvaro Morata have both struggled so badly this season that Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri made Higuain his top target in the January transfer window.

Zola expects the former Real Madrid star, who spent the first half of this season on loan at AC Milan, to get up to speed quickly in his first taste of English football.

"We're talking about a player who has scored not only in Italy but everywhere, also in the Champions League," Zola added.

"I'm sure he can handle expectations. He's always produced good numbers wherever he's been. We're going to help Higuain to get his goals."

Higuain thrived during his time playing for Sarri at Napoli, scoring a Serie A record 36 goals in 2015-16.

He also played with Chelsea midfielder Jorginho at Napoli and Zola hopes that extra familiarity will play a role in helping Higuain slot into the team.

"It's a system he knows very well, so this is a big advantage. The type of players will help him to do what he does best," Zola said.

"The conditions are good. There is no problem there."

While Chelsea have added a new striker, the injury woes up front for their London rivals Tottenham could force the club to return to the transfer market.

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino had expected the club to sit out the current transfer period as they budget for the cost of their long-delayed new stadium.

But Tottenham, who face Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fourth round today, have been rocked by injuries to Harry Kane and Dele Alli, with the duo ruled out until March.

Adding to Pochettino's frustration, Moussa Sissoko and Ben Davies also suffered injuries against Chelsea.

Asked whether there was a chance of making a signing before Thursday's transfer deadline, Pochettino said: "Always, we'll see. Still six days. We are working. We have a few options.

"We are always hoping to try to add quality and try to improve the squad. We are open (to make a move) like always. Different options. In England, outside of England."

Tottenham's problems eased a little on Friday when South Korea were knocked out of the Asian Cup by Qatar, meaning Son Heung-min will be back with the team earlier than expected.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 27, 2019, with the headline 'Expectations high for Higuain'. Subscribe