Zola, Clarke up against Chelsea in Premier League

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

Chelsea could deal a crucial blow to the coaching careers of two of its former favorites when it plays West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday.

Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke spent a total of 18 years playing for Chelsea but are now in charge of a West Ham side struggling financially and stranded in the relegation zone after three straight defeats.

Zola was voted the greatest Chelsea player by the club's fans and Clarke even returned to the west London club for a four-year stint as assistant manager, but their old club won't be doing them any favors at Upton Park.

Chelsea has only just ended its own four-match winless streak and, with second-place Manchester United at Fulham on Saturday, could need victory to retain its three-point lead at the top of the standings.

The Blues were jeered from the field after a 3-3 draw against Everton on Saturday and needed a late penalty by Frank Lampard to beat last-place Portsmouth 2-1 on Wednesday.

Chelsea captain John Terry is urging his teammates to respond forcefully.

"I understand everyone feeling frustrated," Chelsea captain John Terry said. "Our defending of set-plays was unacceptable. We're still on target for 90 points this season and we are the only club which is.

"Saturday was the first time we have dropped points at home this term and I want it to be the last."

Zola's first job in club management started well last season when, with Clarke assisting him, he guided the club away from the relegation zone to a comfortable ninth place.

But the former Italy striker has been unable to invest in the squad because of the financial restrictions imposed by the bankruptcy of its former chairman and debt of its present owner.

"You have to utilize the players you've got in the best way," Clarke said. "We have a manager who likes to pass the ball and when I say aggressive, you have to be aggressive with the ball and impose your style of play on the game."

But West Ham is likely to struggle to do so against a lineup still largely composed of the players who won the Premier League title in 2005 and '06.

"I think if you start to rely on luck it will never come," Clarke said. "We have to work harder, we have to be more aggressive, we have to play better, we have to cut out the mistakes and I think the harder you work the luckier you get and that's the philosophy we have to take."

United could be level on points with Chelsea by the time the Blues take to the field Sunday.

The defending champion is at Fulham, which won 3-2 at FC Basel in midweek to reach the next round of the Europa League but could be tired from its exertions.

Fulham won last season's corresponding fixture 2-0 on its way to finishing in a best-ever seventh place but Ryan Giggs could return for United.

With Owen Hargreaves close to a comeback after more than a year out injured and Anderson's form improving, United's midfield looks in a far better state than its occasionally wobbly defense.

"Midfield is the hardest area for our young players to progress because we have some excellent players operating in that department," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "But Anderson has certainly cranked up the contest for places after hitting great form."

Arsenal needs to bounce back from a disappointing 1-1 draw at Burnley and an injury to captain Cesc Fabregas when it hosts Hull in another of Saturday's six matches.

The Gunners are in third place but are eight points behind Chelsea.

Manager Arsene Wenger is blaming the fixture list for his team's inability to put together a string of victories.

"Some teams do not play at all but we play Sunday and Wednesday away then we must play Saturday against Hull, who have not played the whole week," Wenger said. "It is the same for Burnley."

Aston Villa is level on points with Arsenal and hosts Stoke, fifth-place Tottenham is at Blackburn, Liverpool is at Portsmouth and Sunderland is at Manchester City.

Birmingham is at Everton on Sunday, when Wolverhampton hosts Burnley, while Wigan hosts Bolton in Monday's only game.

League Championship leader Newcastle hosts northeast rival Middlesbrough on Sunday, by which time its lead could be trimmed to four points. Second-place West Bromwich Albion is at Blackpool on Saturday, when third-place Cardiff hosts Leicester.

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