West Ham boss David Moyes admits he found it impossible to recruit a like-for-like understudy for newly-crowned Premier League player of the month Michail Antonio.
In-form forward Antonio collected the individual accolade on Friday following a red-hot start to the season which has brought four goals and three assists.
However, the increasingly influential 31-year-old – who is now the Hammers’ record Premier League goalscorer with 50 – has suffered a string of injury issues since joining from Nottingham Forest in 2015.
With a Europa League campaign an additional consideration this term, Moyes was eager to ease the burden on his star man and concedes he must closely monitor the player’s condition after failing to bring in direct back-up.
“We have to manage him,” said Moyes, whose unbeaten side go to Southampton on Saturday.
“But I do think he’s in a better place than he’s been before: his level of professionalism, the way he’s looking after himself.
“But obviously you can get an injury that can put you out and we’ve got to always be careful with Micky.
“We’d have liked to have brought in someone who maybe directly could replace Micky, who could possibly help him out but we just couldn’t find it, so we’ve had to try and find other ways of doing it and bring in other people who we think can score goals in a different way.
“But keeping Micky fit is really important for us, we’ll not play him in all of the games, we’ll try and use him at the right times.
“He’s been terrific for us and long may that continue.”
West Ham have taken seven points from their opening three games ahead of the weekend trip to St Mary’s, which marks the first of six fixtures in 20 days across three competitions.
While Moyes’ search for cover for Antonio proved fruitless, he could hand debuts to Kurt Zouma, Nikola Vlasic and Alex Kral on the south coast.
France defender Zouma, 26, cost around £30million from rivals Chelsea late last month, while creative Croatia midfielder Vlasic, 23, arrived from CSKA Moscow on deadline day for a reported £27m.
Czech defensive midfielder Kral, 23, also joined on August 31, agreeing a loan switch from Spartak Moscow to link up with compatriots Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal at the London Stadium.
Moyes expects a period of integration for the new signings but is pleased to have boosted the international experience among his ranks.
“We’ve brought some new players in this window who we don’t know what the answer is because we’ve not seen them play yet for the club, so we can only give them time,” said Moyes.
“We don’t have loads and loads of international players at West Ham and suddenly now we’ve got much more and we’ve a squad of players who are used to being in and around international football and, in some cases, European football, so hopefully they’ll help us maintain the team performance that we had last year.
“Kurt is obviously a well-seasoned professional, Premier League centre-half, who is still young for a centre-half – hopefully all his best days are still ahead of him.
“And I think Nikola Vlasic is still on the up, still hungry to prove himself, so I hope they both become really good additions to the squad. The same with Alex Kral as well.”
The meeting with Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men is followed by Thursday’s European opener, away to Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb.
Speaking of the congested fixture list, Moyes said: “It’s incredibly exciting for everybody – we’re really looking forward to it.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel in a month’s time – I don’t know if I’ll be saying the same then!
“We’ve got to go and try and pick up three good points at Southampton, and then obviously all our efforts we had last year have been rewarded by getting back into Europe.
“I’m hoping the players are all ready for it.”
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