Slaven Bilic is not expecting any favours from West Brom on Saturday when West Ham continue their bid to secure European football.
The Hammers are sixth in the Premier League table, three points behind Manchester United, who occupy the final Europa League qualification place.
Should United finish fifth and then beat Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final, the team finishing sixth in the league will earn a route into UEFA’s second-tier competition.
Liverpool and Southampton, seventh and eighth respectively, will also have designs on that pathway, meaning West Ham, who defeated Watford 3-1 at home last time out, must continue to pick up points and hope for a favourable outcome at Wembley Stadium on May 21.
Bilic, though, does not believe West Brom will make life easy for his players at The Hawthorns this weekend, despite the Baggies being safe in 13th spot and with nothing tangible to play for during the final weeks of the campaign.
“Teams are playing for pride, [for the] fans and themselves,” the Croatian manager told a news conference.
“West Brom with Tony Pulis and the English mentality; we’re expecting them to play at their maximum. They are safe. West Brom, it looks like they’ve never been in trouble. That shows they have a good team and a great manager.”
West Brom may have done little more this term than secure top-flight football for another season, but veteran Jonas Olsson has hailed the team assembled by Pulis as the Baggies’ best yet during his time in the West Midlands.
“We had a really good season with Roy [Hodgson] and the first season with Steve [Clarke],” Olsson was quoted as saying by the Express and Star.
“It’s always difficult to compare but if you look at how the league has changed since then, all the teams coming up are spending money and have really good squads. I think the league is more competitive now than it was five years ago.
“The squad we have now is better in terms of the depth in the squad.”
West Brom derailed Tottenham’s title challenge by drawing 1-1 at White Hart Lane on Monday and they will attempt to do similar damage to the Hammers’ European aspirations this weekend.
Forward Saido Berahino and goalkeeper Ben Foster (both ankle) missed the match in north London but could both be passed fit for this one.
Long-term absentees Chris Brunt (knee) and James Morrison (hamstring) remain sidelined.
Unusually for this stage of the season, West Ham have a clean bill of health as they seek to secure European football for their first campaign at London’s Olympic Stadium.
Key Opta stats:
– Over half of Andy Carroll’s 23 Premier League goals for the Hammers have been scored with his head (12 – 52 per cent).
– Dimitri Payet has created 102 goalscoring chances for West Ham this season; more than twice as many as any other West Ham player.
– Payet (102) has created 75 more chances for his team-mates than Darren Fletcher (27), who is West Brom’s most creative player this season in the Premier League.
– West Ham have seen a league-high nine opposition players sent off in the Premier League this season.
– West Brom have played 21.8 per cent of their passes long in the Premier League this season; a higher proportion than any other side.
– West Brom have crafted a league-low 169 goalscoring attempts from open play this season.
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