Slaven Speaks - Everton
Slaven Bilic was focused almost exclusively on football in his press conference ahead of Sunday’s Premier League game at Everton.
The Hammers head to Goodison Park in fine form and confident mood, having picked up seven points from nine and defeated Chelsea in the EFL Cup fourth round in midweek.
The manager was asked about off-field incidents, but asked that the media refer to the Club’s statements and allow him to concentrate on his job of producing a team to win in L4 for the second straight season.
Slaven, can we start by asking you to comment on the incidents near the end of Wednesday’s EFL Cup tie at London Stadium?
“I have said enough about the Stadium. I want to talk about football and about the game. I am a football manager and not a police officer or whatever, so that’s it basically. Ask me football questions, please, if there are any!”
What’s your team news for Everton on Sunday?
“It’s a big game. We played a very demanding game physically and psychologically on Wednesday and we have a few knocks and all that, so we’re going to see how it is after training today, but nothing major. They should all be fit and available for Sunday.”
Has Michail Antonio made a case to start up front again?
“Yes, he was really good and that’s why we put him there. He did everything we hoped and expected that he would do. He used the space behind and it’s very hard to make him in such a big space. Also, he’s very strong. He did excellently in that game, to be fair.”
How close is Andre Ayew to starting a game?
“He is very close. It was crucial [for him to get some game-time], because he had a long break from the first game of the season, and it’s great to have him back. He’s been training with the group for a couple of weeks now and came on and did really good against Chelsea. He looked fit and aggressive, so it’s great to have him back.”
You must be frustrated that the focus is not on the team’s return to form?
“Yes, but I’m trying to get the focus back on the team! We are playing good at the moment. Those three wins – two in the league and one in the cup – we have to build on. We are positive but we are expecting an extremely difficult game on Sunday. If we continue to play like this and improve, then we have a chance.”
You won at Everton in March, coming from 2-0 down, so you must have good memories of that game?
“Yes, I remember that. It was a strange game. We were two down and they had a penalty, which Adrian saved and we won at the end 3-2. It was a dramatic game and very good for us, but very bad for them. I remember, even when we were down, we were playing well and there was always a hope. We were always there, creating chances and hurting them in the last third of the pitch. I always believed that we were going to score some goals there.
“I don’t know what I expect this year, but I know it’ll be a very difficult game. They started the season really great, then they’ve had a little dip in form according to points. They’re at home, have a great squad, great individuals and are very well organised and, as I said, I can’t wait because it should be a great game of football.”
Have the players been distracted by events of this week at all?
“No, I think they have been totally motivated and fully concentrated on the game on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, we really felt at home at the new Stadium with the crowd behind us in the game against Chelsea. It was loud, so we had great support, apart from that thing, of course.
“The Club didn’t deserve it, the players definitely didn’t deserve it and the vast majority of fans didn’t deserve it, of course.”