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Bilic: Antonio is ‘ready’ to return vs Southampton, confident Lanzini will stay

The manager hopes for a bounce back display at the Saints

West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic declared that Michail Antonio’s return to full fitness has gone without any hiccup, as last season’s Hammers of the Year is set to make his season debut against Southampton on Saturday.

In his second weekly press conference for the 2017-18 campaign, Bilic said that the versatile winger’s participation in the U23’s was the final step needed to see him return to action with the first team.

“He’s fit, he’s ready to go,” Bilic said of Antonio. “He’s in shape, he’s been training for two and a half weeks now. He looks ready of course.”

There was also no setbacks in the comebacks for Andy Carroll, Cheikhou Kouyate and Manuel Lanzini, with Bilic again reiterating that, barring no further injuries, he would have a full squad available for the Newcastle fixture after the international break.

Speaking of Lanzini, Bilic also continued his calm insistence on the star playmaker staying with the club and the Hammers fending off interest from Liverpool’s plot to replace Philippe Coutinho if they depart.

“I said it last week, I speak to Manu everyday and he is very happy,” Bilic said. “He feels he is at home here and is wanted. You can feel it, you can see it. You can see how he is smiling here, he is happy. He broke into the national team of Argentina, despite him being injured. So if he knows if he has a good season at West Ham, he can play for Argentina. I’m sure he’s going to stay with us.”

When asked about Declan Rice, the Croatian tactician heaped praise on the rapid growth of the Irish teen.

“He’s a boy very mature for his age,” Bilic said. “He’s got the quality and he has impressed everybody in preseason. He wasn’t in the plans in the beginning, let’s be honest. So it’s too early for the kid, but is he improving, is he doing very good? Yes, he is.”

Bilic also expressed how he is for the transfer window closing before the start of the season, but laid caution to the idea if the Premier League was the only UEFA big five league to do it.

“It is mutual for me and the club, we are on the same line of course. Just I would like that to happen, it would help everybody. But for me, it has to be across the leagues. Otherwise, there would be no point. Ironically, it would put the clubs in an even worse situation. It would only protect us in terms that no other Premier League players can take your players.”

“It doesn’t have to start before the first game of the preseason of course. But definitely before the first game of the season and definitely across Europe.”