Bilic fears long Euro expedition may damage West Ham season

Frank Dalleres
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WEST Ham manager Slaven Bilic admits he is lukewarm on the prospect of a lengthy European run as he prepares to take charge for his first home game, against Maltese side Birkirkara, tonight.

The second qualifying round, first leg fixture is the third of eight matches the Hammers must navigate before even reaching the Europa League, where a potential 15 further outings await.

Bilic witnessed first hand the draining effect of a packed schedule at Turkish club Besiktas last season and, while proud to spearhead West Ham’s first European campaign for nine years, remains wary.

“The Europa League, if we qualify of course, is good for the club,” the Croatian said. “It is good for the spectators and players. It boosts your confidence and your quality as a man and a player.

“But it takes from you too. Last year at Besiktas the Europa League cost us because it was something like playing 20 games Saturday [and then] Thursday.”

Bilic is expected to name a stronger team than the youthful line-up that despatched Andorra’s FC Lusitans 4-0 on aggregate in the last round. Birkirkara won Malta’s main cup competition and finished third in the league last season.

“We didn’t want to call up the senior players before because we’re going to need them until May,” added Bilic, who left academy coach Terry Westley in charge for the first leg against Lusitans.

“In England there is no winter break. But we wanted to respect the Europa League because it’s a big opportunity and privilege.”

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