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West Ham need the hunger to keep clean sheets, says Slaven Bilic

West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic

West Ham United must develop a “clean sheet mentality” if they are to arrest the slide that has seen them slip to the edge of the relegation zone, according to Slaven Bilic.

The Hammers face a challenging trip to Anfield on Sunday, the fourth in a run of big games. After taking a point from Manchester United, however, the Hammers were beaten by north London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal. Amid accusations of a lack of spirit amongst his squad, Bilic has urged the team to pull together as they enter a crucial period in the season, starting with this match against a free‑scoring Liverpool.

“Keeping a clean sheet is a challenge for us,” Bilic said. “We’ve had three clean sheets, against Bournemouth, against Palace and against Sunderland, those three. No team can be guaranteed that they won’t concede a goal. You can’t be guaranteed a clean sheet, but you have to have a clean sheet mentality.”

Bilic continued: “You have to have that hunger. You have a plan, you have to talk to each other, you have to be a team. 2-0 against Arsenal is 2-0, but it doesn’t have to be 5-1. It’s my responsibility, I accept that, but we can’t crumble. Yes the guy can score from a free-kick or a great action from them. But it’s about the mentality.”

Speculation on the mentality and commitment of the West Ham squad has been rife after recent performances. Bilic did not help matters when, speaking after the Arsenal defeat, he claimed his side were lacking in intensity. This week he has sought to row back on his comments, however, using his column in the London Evening Standard to insist he was not criticising his staff or the commitment of his players. “I wanted to take responsibility myself,” said Bilic, seeking to clarify his remarks. “I wanted to use my column to explain why I said what I did. The problem we have is with injuries. Even in the preseason we had injured players, people coming back from short and long term injuries, and we are always having to ask how hard we can train with the players because we have a game in three days. That is what I meant. You are always wondering: ‘Are they going to get injured? Is it too much for them?’”

Bilic added: “All the players are working really hard. Of course some people have understood it differently but if you look at our injury records you see our players come back four days before a game, then they’re not match fit, then they can’t train. It’s a Catch 22 situation. If you are always stop start you can’t get to the level you want. I don’t like excuses but those are the reasons. Nowadays whatever you say it sounds like excuses which is why I hate to talk about it. But they are real.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul MacInnes, for The Observer on Saturday 10th December 2016 22.00 Europe/London

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