Forward thinking for Zola

Gianfranco Zola was in upbeat mood ahead of the "big opportunity" of taking on Manchester United on Saturday afternoon.

Although Carlton Cole is ruled out, the manager has Alessandro Diamanti and Kieron Dyer back in contention after hip and hamstring issues respectively and they could provide competition in forward areas. Goalscoring has not been a problem of late although the manager admitted he would like his defence, which will again be without Matthew Upson, to be tighter.

"I have no concerns as I think my team will play a good game. The pressure is on Manchester United, they have to win to chase Chelsea. Not many people are expecting anything from us and it is these kind of conditions where you can find surprises."

While Luis Jimenez (groin) and Mark Noble (virus) are doubtful for the weekend, Cole is set to be missing until early in the new year after hurting his knee in last Saturday's 5-3 defeat of Burnley. The manager said it will "be weeks rather than months" after initial speculation he would need surgery proved unfounded.

He explained that the return date cannot be properly assessed until Cole has more rehab under his belt. "We will see how the therapy works for him but it will be that period more or less."

The manager was well aware the Hammers had won two of the last three meetings between the two Uniteds at the Boleyn Ground and also mindful that only one slight lapse allowed Ryan Giggs to score the winner in east London last season. Similarly he took encouragement from recent meetings with Arsenal and Liverpool.

"We have a good tradition. In the last games against the top teams we have done well and they have been close games. We rely on the last week when the performance was encouraging.

"It's a big opportunity. I know we are playing Manchester United, but you need to see the positive side of it. They are a great team and champions but they are not unbeatable and it is down to us to exploit their weaknesses. It is not an easy task but that is why I like to play games like this - because they are not easy.

"We are getting there with our form. We have lost one in six and should have had more points as well. The situation is improving and we just need to continue like that that as everyone is making points and we need to carry on the run."

He was naturally full of praise for the visitors but is refusing to be overawed. "They are a team of winners - the manager is a winner and have a lot of people that winning for many years and that is why they are up there. They are competitors and they will be challenging until the end, no doubt about that.

"I have a lot of respect and a lot appreciation for what they do. No doubt it will be a tasty game for us. Against big teams you have to always be on top. As soon as you make a mistake you are punished. You just need an occasion to make the difference and that's what I'm hoping my players realise."