Closing the gap

West Ham United are closing the gap between themselves and the Premier League's big-four.

That was the view of manager Gianfranco Zola ahead of the Hammers' latest face-off against one of English football's top guns.

Liverpool visit the Boleyn Ground on Saturday knowing a win will take them top of the Premier League table, at least until Manchester United have taken on Manchester City on Sunday afternoon.

However, Zola, his coaching staff and his players have other ideas and are determined to prove they can compete with the biggest clubs in the land.

West Ham grabbed a point at Anfield in the reverse fixture on 1 December courtesy of a hard-earned goalless draw, while Mark Noble's last-gasp penalty was enough to secure a 1-0 home win over the Reds on their last visit in January 2008.

On Saturday, the home side know victory will not only send out a message to the rest of the Premier League, but also boost their own chances of securing a top-seven finish and a coveted spot in next season's UEFA Europa League.

Zola's Hammers have already secured draws at Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal this season, but the manager believes it will not be long before his improving side take all three points from one of the Premier League giants, with the club's promising youngsters to the fore.

"The gap is a big one. The four or five teams at the top are really above everybody else, but I do trust and rely on the fact that we have a lot of young players who are just in their first year as regular players. I'm sure over the next year that they will develop a lot and they will be more competitive. The gap is big but my faith is also big."

Having joined the club in September, Zola was not afforded the luxury of a full pre-season with his players this term. This summer, the Italian will have all the time he needs to prepare his team for an impressive 2009/10 season.

"I believe that this team next year [can do better], starting from the beginning because they already know the way we play, which is a big advantage for us. If we have a couple of players who can take the level of the team up, there will still be a gap for sure because we're talking about the best teams in Europe, then the gap will not be as big as this year."

While he is looking forward to next season, Zola's mind is still fully focused on this Saturday's match against Rafael Benitez's free-scoring side. Liverpool have netted 35 goals in their last eleven matches, and the West Ham boss knows his team will need to be at their very best to shackle the likes of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt.

"It is a difficult team to play against but trust me when I say that every time I play I am confident I will win. That is the kind of mentality that I have. It is down to them and us and if we have a good day then we can cause them problems. If we can cause them problems then we can do well, but if we don't pose any threat to them, then they have so many good players that they will hurt us."

Zola, who signed a new long-term contract until the summer of 2013 a fortnight ago, also took time out to make it clear that he was not being distracted by newspaper speculation over the club's future off the pitch. Instead, the manager vowed to concentrate on his own job of getting things right on it.

"I'm quite confident. I just trust the people. So far, I have been here seven months and everything they have told me has been respected, so I have faith in them. They told me the club won't have any problems and I believe them. I'm not worried about it, honestly.

"My concern is to worry about what happens on the pitch and I'm positive that the people who are dealing with me, I'm talking about [CEO] Scott Duxbury who is very close to and believes in what we're doing, are taking care of that part of the club properly."