Chelsea are doing themselves few favours by using Eden Hazard as a false nine, says Gianfranco Zola, with Antonio Conte needing to play a leading striker.
The reigning Premier League champions have hit a wobble of late, with back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford seeing uncomfortable questions asked of all concerned.
Much of the criticism and pressure has been piled on Antonio Conte, with the Italian coach facing intense speculation regarding his future.
He has, however, been forced to contend with unfortunate injuries, such as one to £70 million frontman Alvaro Morata, and tweak his tactical approach accordingly.
Zola, though, believes that the wrong call has been made with Belgian playmaker Hazard, with the Blues legend telling the Evening Standard: “When Hazard plays deeper, it allows him to come off the pressure and run at players. It’s perfect for him.
“He is very similar to what I was as a player. If I had to be the main striker and stay around the box, it would limit my possibilities, my strength. While if I had more space to go around and look for the ball, my game was much better.
“I’m sure having a main striker will help Hazard’s game. We saw in the last two games that Chelsea were not as good in the last 20 metres.”
Chelsea were able to acquire France international Olivier Giroud from Arsenal during the winter transfer window, so they do have the option of fielding an out-and-out striker.
Conte must decide whether that is the way to go against West Brom on Monday, with a man Zola knows well from his playing days tipped to get things right and come through a testing period.
“People who ask if he is affected by all of this, they don’t know Antonio very well,” said Zola.
“I have known Antonio for years and in his career he has had tough moments, injuries, breakdowns and he has always came back fighting. Antonio doesn’t worry me.
“It is difficult for every manager, we live for results. When things don’t go well we suffer. But Antonio is a manager who has been through periods like this and come out of it very well. I’m sure he can cope.
“Antonio has shown during his spell in England that he deserves people to be patient with him. He deserves it for what he has done for this team.”
Zola also believes that Conte can help Chelsea to enjoy a productive end to the 2017-18 campaign, with major silverware still available and a top-four finish to be secured.
He added: “Competition has grown and Chelsea are not as strong.
“They are not playing as well or scoring as many goals as they’re used to.
“They have had some injury problems recently - they miss Alvaro Morata a lot and Olivier Giroud has only just arrived. But Chelsea are still playing for the FA Cup, Champions League and they’re not far away from the top four in the Premier League. It can still end in a good way.”