Blues handed selection boost as World Cup duo return ahead of Forest fixture


Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech have returned to the Chelsea squad ahead of Sunday’s Premier League game at Nottingham Forest.

But it’s almost certain that only the Croatian will play.

Morocco’s World Cup star Ziyech has struggled to get game time under head coach Graham Potter and despite injuries plaguing the side, the wideman won’t be expressing his silky skills to the fans beside the River Trent.

Potter has a few selection headaches as he tries to build momentum after the break from the World Cup.

The 2-0 win against Bournemouth on Tuesday was welcome but for large sections of the second half they were second best.

Potter is fully aware of the task his charges face.

He said: “You always have to be wary of the Premier League, You can’t say on the one hand it’s the greatest league in the world and then think there are easy games – there aren’t.

“Forest had a fantastic result against Liverpool before the break, and I have huge respect for [head coach] Steve Cooper and the job that he has done there – it’s tremendous.

“He’s a fantastic coach. So they will be ready.

“The atmosphere will be hostile. Chelsea coming to town is a big game. They will be fighting for the points so we have to be ready.”

With the new year comes expectations and with Chelsea sitting an uncomfortable eighth in the table, fans are becoming restless and slightly uneasy at the way things are going on the pitch.

Potter remains optimistic. He said: “We want to keep improving. We have had some challenging times, some ups and downs, which is normal in any football club. But we want to stabilise things and make our supporters happy.

“For the last few weeks before the break it wasn’t nice for us, results and performances were not what we wanted them to be.”

To explain the frustrations, Potter cited the injury crisis affecting the side when they faced Newcastle in November. He said: “We had no Kepa, no Reece [James], no Wesley [Forfana], no Ben Chilwell. We lost Ruben Loftus-Cheek after seven minutes, Marc Cucurella was ill before the game [but came on as a substitute], no [N’Golo] Kante, we lost Aspi after 45 minutes, no Raheem Sterling. That was the period we were in.

“But that’s the challenge of playing in multiple competitions in a short period of time

“My job is to get as many people back. But we are Chelsea, no one wants to hear excuses.

“When Chilwell got injured, what was the effect on other players ahead of the World Cup? Can I be next,will I miss the World Cup? These are not excuses. We had to deal with it.

“Plus the break did not go well for us, we had four players [training with the club] in the first two weeks and then others dribbling back in.”

With Kovacic expected to retain his midfield berth, Denis Zakaria is set to make way. The Switzerland star has impressed Potter.

He said: “Denis had not let us down, he played against Zagreb in the Champions League and scored. He has shown his ability – he had to be patient. We had good options in midfield, we didn’t lose for the first few games, so it’s hard to get the opportunity. But he has remained professional and worked really hard.”

Bethany England is expected to leave Chelsea and sign for Tottenham Hotspur in January.

England has become a bit-player in head coach Emma Hayes’ side and lost her place in the recent England squad.

With the Women’s World Cup coming up next year, England knows she has to be playing regularly and scoring to bounce back into the international set-up.

Spurs are eighth in the 12-team WSL and the £250,000 fee they are investing in getting a proven goal-scorer illustrates their growing ambitions to break into the top echelons of the league.

The fee is the largest between two English clubs.

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