Zola to target Chelsea weakness at set piece

West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola will order his side to target

Chelsea’s frailty at set-pieces as they look to kickstart their

campaign with a home win against the Barclays Premier League

leaders on Sunday.

The Blues have won just one of their five matches in December

and their defence has come under the spotlight after conceding 11

times this month.

A number of those goals have come from set-pieces, with

goalkeeper Petr Cech coming in for some criticism for failing to

command his box.

And it is an area the Hammers will seek to exploit when

Chelsea visit Upton Park.

“We know that they have been conceding from set-pieces,” said

Zola, a former Chelsea player.

“We have been very dangerous from set-pieces ourselves so

that might be the key to the game.

“Chelsea have lost a bit of confidence and I am not sure why,

but I hope it continues. Chelsea are not the same Chelsea they were

some time ago.

“But they are still top of the league and a fantastic

performance is required from us.”

Zola’s defence has been even more porous, shipping 14 goals

in their last six league games.

One of the goals they conceded in the 3-1 defeat to Bolton on

Tuesday night came when goalkeeper Robert Green, who has been one

of the Hammers’ star players this season, inexplicably fumbled a

straightforward shot at the feet of Ivan Klasnic, who tapped home.

Zola expects Green to bounce back against Chelsea in a match

where the England custodian could be under severe pressure.

“Robert Green is a strong person, a strong man and he will be

okay,” Zola said.

“He knows what he did and I didn’t need to say anything to

him. He has been magnificent for me since last year and he knows he

made a mistake.

“It happened a couple of times with me – I missed chances

without a goalkeeper in front of me from one yard out. It’s part of

the game.”

The Hammers have dropped into the relegation zone after

losing three league matches in a row.

With a leaky defence and a shortage of firepower up front,

fans will fear the second half of the season panning out like the

first.

Zola admits belief is in short supply at Upton Park at the

moment but is confident he has the players at his disposal to turn

things around.

“The results are affecting the players and their confidence

level isn’t great. That is totally understandable in this

situation,” the Italian said.

“I have to get the best out of my players and I think they

can do a good job.

“But last year was the same. I kept my mind on the job and it

worked. And we were more or less in the same situation – we only

had two points more last season.”

Zola’s injury worries have eased with Matthew Upson returning

to full fitness after a hamstring problem.

The centre-back will go straight back into the heart of the

defence but West Ham are still without Upson’s fellow England

international Carlton Cole.

The club’s top scorer is currently sidelined by a knee

ligament complaint although Zola revealed the striker might be back

“earlier than we thought”, with a return in mid-January now a

possibility.

Guillermo Franco is set to continue up front on his own in

Cole’s absence.