Belfast Telegraph

West Ham boss Slaven Bilic welcomes return of running man Michail Antonio

Slaven Bilic has hailed the vital return of his running man Michail Antonio for West Ham's Premier League trip to Bournemouth.

Antonio has become a vital cog in Bilic's West Ham machine, but was ruled out through suspension for his side's 2-1 defeat against Chelsea at the London Stadium on Monday night.

The forward, who spent the formative years of his career in the lower leagues of English football before his 2015 move from Nottingham Forest to east London, has netted eight times for the Hammers this season.

And Bilic is delighted to have the 26-year-old back for his side's tricky trip to the south coast on Saturday.

"There are many categories that you get - general running, amount of running, etc, but a couple that really matter are high intensity and sprinting, and Mikey is always number one in those," Bilic said.

"They're the most important ones and he's our best player in all of them.

"Mark Noble galvanises vocally in terms of organisation, but Mikey's the one who gives you that kind of boost of energy. He opens the spaces and then if you add goals that he scores, he's vital for us."

Following Dimitri Payet's move back to Marseille, Antonio is now West Ham's talisman.

And Bilic drew comparisons between Antonio and Chelsea's N'Golo Kante, whose impressive performances this season have made him a strong contender for the Player of the Year award.

"Some players like Mikey love to do the running and some players don't want to do it," Bilic added. "It's also about your stamina and whether you can do it.

"Of course in training you can influence that and improve it. But basically players like Kante and Michail can run for fun because they're born like that. Their muscles, their heart most of all, and their lungs are ideal for that.

"You have some players who can do it naturally but they are a little bit lazy. Then you have to push them.

"The example of Michail is that he has got all three. He's got natural ability, he wants to do it and maybe the most important one he can do it in high intensity. He's quick, he's got pace, and that's why we are talking about him a lot."

England manager Gareth Southgate will name his squad for the friendly in Germany and World Cup qualifier against Lithuania later this month.

And Bilic believes Antonio, who was handed his first England call-up by former boss Sam Allardyce for the qualifier against Slovakia but did not feature, should be in the running to earn his international debut.

"I think so but I am not the manager," said Bilic when asked about Antonio's England credentials. "I am his club manager and I am not objective, but I don't see many strikers or wingers that are playing better than him."

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