By Trevor Haylett in London
Chelsea FC striker Adrian Mutu goes into tonight's UEFA Champions League meeting with S.S. Lazio knowing it would be an appropriate time to rediscover his prowess in front of goal.
Despite his €22.4m transfer fee, the Romanian international's arrival at Stamford Bridge from Parma AC in August did not come with the same fanfare that greeted the signings of, say, Hernán Crespo, Damien Duff and Juan Sebastián Verón. It is arguable, however, that no other player has made such a forceful impression at the start of his Chelsea career.
Mutu scored with a stunning half-volley on his debut against Leicester City FC and added three more on his next two appearances. The Stamford Bridge supporters were thrilled at the sight of his deadly aim in and around the penalty area and the quick, darting runs which gave defenders a torrid time.
Yet since mid-September, the goals have dried up for the former Internazionale FC marksman at a time also when the London club have shown their vulnerability after a glorious start to the season. They were unbeaten for the first nine games (eight wins, one draw) as manager Claudio Ranieri demonstrated an ability to successfully juggle his vast playing resources but the last four games have brought two defeats and only a single victory.
English newspapers have hinted at some problems in Mutu's personal life which were proving a distraction but, as he prepared for the confrontation with the Group G leaders, the 24-year-old declared that the situation had been resolved and he could look forward with optimism.
'Enjoying my time'
"Everything is settled and everybody is happy," he said. "I am enjoying my time in London, it gets more interesting with every day. It is a really stylish place and I like the pace of it. We have a tight schedule in terms of the number of games we are involved in but away from that there are no restrictions on me and I am able to enjoy myself and explore London."
He is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to pit his wits against Italian defenders once again and believes the differences between the game in England and Serie A are quite marked. "
It is an open game in England, much more open than in Italy. There is also much more physical contact and that is something I am having to get used to. I have picked up a few knocks so far but you just have to get on with it."
The other problem faced by every new Chelsea recruit is the need to find a common wavelength with players who do not speak his language. It helps that there are others with experience of the Italian league but having so many nationalities involved makes life interesting and difficult at the same time.
'We all get on well'
Strikers in particular need a good understanding and with Ranieri employing a rotational policy Mutu's front partners can switch from Hernán Crespo to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Eidur Gudjohnsen. "As the days go on we are developing stronger bonds" he said. "We have fantastic players here but we all get on well."
Need three points
Yet Chelsea's Champions League prospects will be under threat should they fail to overcome Roberto Mancini's Lazio. They go into the game acutely aware that against Besiktas JK on Matchday 2 it was individual errors that brought about their downfall. "
We can not afford any wrong moves against Lazio," Mutu stressed. "We have to get the three points."
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