West Ham United boss Slaven Bilic wants extended Europa campaign

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic
Image: West Ham manager Slaven Bilic wants to make an impact in Europe

West Ham United boss Slaven Bilic is taking the Europa League seriously this season despite admitting it could affect their Premier League form.

The Hammers face a two-legged tie against Romanian champions Astra Giurgiu, with the away leg on Thursday evening, as they bid to reach the group stages for the first time.

Astra v West Ham preview

Astra v West Ham preview

Get the full lowdown before Thursday's first leg in Romania

In the past some clubs have taken the competition lightly - including West Ham last season when they qualified through the Fair Play League and were knocked out by Astra in the qualifying round.

Bilic fielded a team of youngsters for that clash but has brought a full squad, including the likes of Dimitri Payet, Mark Noble and Andy Carroll, for the rematch.

"We will put out a strong team," he said. "We want to get to the group stages. These are two very important games for West Ham United.

"We want to qualify. It's a reward for a good season last year and only a few clubs from the Premier League are privileged to play in Europe. We are two games from the group stages and we want to participate.

West Ham United's Cheikhou Kouyate celebrates
Image: Cheikhou Kouyate celebrates his goal against NK Domzale earlier this month

"All the talk all season is 'will you qualify for Europe', and then you do and the next question is 'why did you qualify?' Well, we have to adjust.

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"We know it affects your chances in the next Premier League game but we want to try it. It's good for everyone, it's good for the players to play games against teams from different countries, they become better players."

Astra beat the Hammers 2-1 in Giurgiu last season but are in some disarray this time around having lost a number of key players and their coach Marius Sumudica, who is suspended for betting on matches.

The Romanians were initially in the Champions League but were knocked out in the qualifiers by FC Copenhagen.

Bilic added: "They have many internationals, although they sold a few players. They have a team who have played together for some time.

Takayuki Seto celebrates after scoring for Astra Giurgiu against West Ham in the Europa League last season
Image: West Ham sllipped up against Astra in the Europa League qualifiers last season

"Look, they played a good game against Copenhagen at home, drew 1-1, and what is crucial is that they are current champions of Romania. I'm Croatian, so I know how good teams from Romania can be. I'm expecting a tough game."

West Ham will be without £20m striker Andre Ayew, who is awaiting the result of a scan on the thigh injury he suffered at Chelsea on Saturday, with Bilic fearing he will be out for 'weeks, rather than days'.

Aaron Cresswell, Manuel Lanzini and Sofiane Feghouli are also injured and new left-back Arthur Masuaku is cup-tied.

But Argentine striker Jonathan Calleri has travelled with the squad and could be involved following his loan switch from from Uruguayan club Deportivo Maldonado.

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