Lampard v Cole? Chelsea idols face off as Man City play Roma
European underachievers City cannot afford to slip up against in-form Italian side at the Etihad
Ashley Cole returns to England tonight for the first time since his summer move from Chelsea to Roma, and the veteran defender is likely to receive a hostile reception as his new team face Manchester City. Never one of the most popular players in the Premier League for what many opposition fans perceived to be his arrogance, Cole left London at the end of last season to take up the challenge of a new culture in Italy.
Tonight he is expected to line up for his new team in the Champions League with the Italians knowing that victory over the Premier League champions would virtually end their hopes of qualifying for the knockout phase. After losing away against Bayern Munich a fortnight ago, City know they can't slip up at home to Roma. The Italians thrashed CSKA Moscow 5-1 in their opening fixture and that form has been replicated in the Serie A with Roma joint top of the league alongside Juventus after winning their first five matches.
Left-back Cole has featured in four of those league games and in none has the Roma defence conceded a goal. "It will be great to see Ashley Cole and catch up with him," said City goalkeeper Joe Hart on Monday. "I know him well from England and when he was with Chelsea and I'm looking forward to finding out how he's enjoying life in Italy."
For Cole, there's the possibility of coming face to face tonight with former Chelsea teammate Frank Lampard who, since joining City on loan in the summer, has scored four goals in his last three games. "If I play and Lamps is selected it will be nice because he is a good friend of mine," said Cole, who at 33 is three years Lampard's junior. "I think everyone knows what Lampard brings to every team. It's another experienced player for City and he brings goals."
Hart was left on the bench for City's Premier League clash with Hull at the weekend – with Willy Caballero between the sticks for the Sky Blues - but the England man is expected to start tonight as Manuel Pellegrini's men go in search of three precious points.
"This is a huge game for us," conceded Hart. "Luckily it isn't the knock-out stages straight away and we have time to put things right but we need to start the home fixtures with a win... every game is hard in this competition but we are more than capable of winning and we are all up for it."
Cole isn't the only Englishman to have moved to Italy in recent months. Former City defender Micah Richards has also made the switch, signing for Fiorentina, and that prompted one reporter to mischievously ask Hart if he fancied trying his luck in Italy if he couldn't sort out a new contract with City. "I have got a lot of respect for the boys who have done it," Hart said of Cole and Richards. "But right now I am happy with what is going on at this club. We are fighting on all fronts. While I am welcome here, I am more than happy to stay here and see where that takes me."
Though Hart wouldn't be drawn on the contract situation, manager Pellegrini appeared sanguine about the matter, declaring: "Me and Joe know what happen with that issue. It is important but not the most important thing in this moment."
And the City manager was similarly relaxed about Tuesday's match with Roma. "We do not feel under a lot of pressure," he said at his pre-match press conference. "We have to win and I think that even though it will be a difficult game we will succeed."