High hopes for Franco

Gianfranco Zola has spoken of his belief that new recruit Guille Franco could play a major role for the club in the weeks and months to come.

The experienced Mexico striker could be involved against Stoke City today after a full week of training and the positive impact of helping his country qualify for the FIFA World Cup last Saturday. The manager has something of a selection conundrum as he also has Zavon Hines, fresh from two goals with England Under-21s, Alessandro Diamanti and Junior Stanislas to think of in terms of his forward line.

Zola is clear though about whether Franco could prove a perfect complement to in-form lead striker Carlton Cole. "They could do a good partnership. It depends on the conditions and the circumstances. Guillermo is a very intelligent player. He is very skilful when he has to link up with the midfielders, while Coley is a finisher so I think they can play very well together.

"Carlton needs players to play off him. He has the quality to play up there on his own but the plan is to have people joining him at the last minute. It worked very well last year because of David Di Michele and the players making runs close to him. Franco can play more or less the same way Di Michele used to - so it can work."

Zola said he had also a better picture of where he believed he could get the best out of his players after seeing the return of some key players to fitness and an extended period of working with those who arrived in the summer months. "I have used the time to see the qualities of my players. I am getting to a point now where I know exactly where the players can play."

With the club determined to start picking up results, Zola said the squad could take heart from last season when a similar run was arrested with a 4-1 win at Portsmouth on Boxing Day. "That was really the turning point. From that moment we played well and also got results. This is one of those moments where you need a resolve to reinforce that confidence."