Slaven Bilic heads back to Goodison Park this weekend with Roberto Martinez quick to compliment the manner in which the former Everton defender has turned West Ham into credible contenders for Champions League football.
While Bilic’s predecessor Sam Allardyce had West Ham fans briefly dreaming of European football last season, a failure to maintain a strong start ultimately prompted a slide down the table to 12th and a managerial change.
Nine months on from returning to Upton Park, ex-Hammers centre-back Bilic has led the club to within a point of fourth-placed Manchester City with 10 matches remaining, although Manuel Pellegrini’s men do have a game in hand.
A 1-0 win on Wednesday over title challengers Tottenham is the latest in an impressive run of results this term, but Bilic has done his best to play down talk of a top-four finish.
Regardless, Martinez believes the Croatian deserves huge credit for putting West Ham in with a chance of gatecrashing the Champions League.
Asked to comment on the job Bilic is doing, Everton boss Martinez said: “Remarkable.
“It’s not easy to arrive into the Premier League as a manager and I know that he is very close to the British game and he has had really good experiences as a player, but nothing compares to being a manager.
“He’s been remarkable, the way that West Ham have been playing at home, I think they’ve got 13 different scorers. This team shares goals, creates opportunities, they play with intensity and they defend as a group.
“I think what they achieve this season, if you look at the away results against the teams in the top of the table [wins at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, a draw at Manchester United], they are very significant and have got a really well-balanced side.”
Everton host West Ham after returning to winning ways with a 3-1 success at Aston Villa on Tuesday, having lost their last league outing 1-0 against West Brom.
Romelu Lukaku was on target at Villa Park and, ominously for West Ham, the Belgium striker has netted in all seven of his appearances for Everton against them in all competitions.
Martinez, meanwhile, plans to make late checks on the availability of Bryan Oviedo (knock), Tom Cleverley (chest infection), Muhamed Besic (hamstring) and Darron Gibson (knock). Leighton Baines came off the bench to replace Oviedo at Villa and, despite needing to see a specialist regarding his ankle injury, is expected to be able to feature.
For West Ham, Sam Byram serves the last of his two-game ban, with Bilic’s defensive options – already weakened by the loss of the likes of Winston Reid – further depleted after losing James Collins to a hamstring injury sustained against Spurs that looks likely to rule him out for three games.
A major positive at the other end of the pitch, though, has been Michail Antonio netting in back-to-back league games.
“We will head to Everton and not go for a point, we will go for the three points and see what it happens,” Antonio told the club’s official website after sinking Spurs.
Key Opta stats:
– Everton have won 10 and lost none of the last 15 Barclays Premier League matches against West Ham.
– Romelu Lukaku has now scored 17 Premier League goals this season, equalling his best tally in 2012-13 (at West Brom).
– West Ham have won just one of their last nine Premier League away matches (W1 D4 L4).
– Aaron Lennon, the Everton winger, has found the net in four of his last six Premier League games and has never lost a Premier League game that he has scored in (31 games, 27 wins, four draws).
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