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 tomorrow.
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.