Zola wants 'big four' win

Gianfranco Zola is readying his troops for the chance to claim their first taste of victory under his stewardship against one of the 'top four' teams.

Zola has already masterminded impressive draws at the homes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but is hoping to go one better when Rafael Benitez's side visit east London in Saturday's late afternoon kick-off. The Hammers won the corresponding fixture 1-0 last season after Mark Noble's last-minute penalty and Zola is optimistic his side can repeat that feat this time around.

"In my opinion a team they are a team you'd rather play at their home than away as if you look at their record away it must be one of the best in the Premier League," Zola said. "So it is a really tough match for us but my players are determined to beat one of the really top sides.

"We played Manchester United at home and Chelsea at home and we went very close and were unlucky. We keep trying as we lost against those teams but we learnt a lot from them and we are confident that Saturday is going to be a different game."

The Hammers go into the game with the solid foundation of a defence that has been breached just ten times this calendar year in the league, including just four in their last nine games. However, title-chasing Liverpool, with an attack set to be boosted by the return of Fernando Torres, will not be underestimated by Zola and his team.

"It's going to be another tough match and a completely different game and that is what the Premier League is all about. You play a game against Stoke City, which is a very difficult game, and then you have another one which is a completely different kind of game and you have to change your mental approach and your tactics.

"But I like it, it is another opportunity for us to beat a top team and also it has got double the value that if we win this game we have a great chance to get into Europe."

That "great chance" has been translated into a four-point target by both manager and captain alike and the hunt for the first three of those points begins with Saturday's visit of the Reds.

"It's looking more likely that four points is going to be enough. But we are going to try to make sure we do more than that but four points should be enough. We are just saying we need four but we are going to try to get nine - that is the approach we have."

The Hammers will go into the match on a high after becoming just the fourth team to win away this campaign at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium last weekend. Zola believes that victory was all the sweeter as his players responded to home defeat by Chelsea the previous week.

"I was delighted. I knew what kind of game it would have been as only four teams have won over there so it's no surprise that it was going be a tough match. I also knew that my team this year whenever it had a bad game, like we did against Chelsea, that straight away they would come back and I'm very delighted about that."

Zola could decide to hand a starting berth to the fit-again Jack Collison, while he is also set to wait until the last possible minute to decide on striker Carlton Cole's availability. Jordan Spence and Kyel Reid are also in contention following their return from successful loan spells Leyton Orient and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Kieron Dyer, James Collins and Scott Parker are all set to sit out, though, as they continue work on hamstring, calf and groin injuries respectively. Dean Ashton continues to make progress in his rehabilitation from an ankle injury, while it is a similar story for Valon Behrami as he works his way back from a knee injury.

Turning to matters off the field, the manager was unwavering in his confidence for for the coming seasons in the knowledge that "everything is under control" regarding future foundations. "It is looking very well for the club and we might have the possibility to buy some players and to be in a situation here we can really look forward with a positive perspective."

Zola admitted that while he has already started scouting for new targets for the next campaign, the recent performances of his players means they are making his job somewhat harder. He said: "We are working but it's too early to say that as a lot of it depends on the players we have got.

"Some of the players are developing very well and that may change our targets for the next year so it is too early to say. We will try to improve a little bit in what we are lacking, but don't forget we should have Dean Ashton and that could be a very big player for us and someone we have missed the whole year.

"We will see but our next year depends on how we finish this year. If we finish in the top seven and get into Europe we have a plan and if we don't qualify for Europe we have a different plan."