WEST Ham manager Slaven Bilic admits he is taking a gamble by fielding a weakened team for tonight’s Europa League qualifier against Astra Giurgiu in Romania.
Bilic has left several first-team players at home, despite effectively needing a win following last week’s 2-2 draw at Upton Park, as he keeps one eye on Sunday’s Premier League opener at Arsenal.
“It was always part of the plan that some players would stay at home. We want to win every game and it is a risk, but I am taking that risk because of the bigger picture,” he said. “Thursday’s game is a very important game for us. We have senior players in defence, in midfield we have our club captain and players who have played in the Premier League.”
None of the players who started last week’s first leg, in which West Ham squandered a two-goal lead, have travelled for the return match. Bilic’s new side have failed to impress on their travels so far, only beating Andorran minnows Lusitans 1-0 and needing penalties to see off Birkirkara after losing 1-0 away to the Maltese side.
The winners of tonight’s tie will go into tomorrow’s play-off draw.