Bilyaletdinov to make bow against AEK

Injury-hit Everton hand debut to £10m Russian in tonight's Europa League tie
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The Independent Football

The Everton manager David Moyes will give his new £10m Russian winger Diniyar Bilyaletdinov his full debut tonight and is hoping a squad depleted by injuries and suspensions can cope with life in the Europa League.

Bilyaletdinov, already known around Goodison Park much more simply as "Billy", will be plunged into his first full match for his new club at home to AEK Athens in Everton's opening Group I match.

But Moyes will be without captain Phil Neville, out for three months with suspected knee ligament damage, suspended full-back Tony Hibbert and ineligible new defender Johnny Heitinga.

Playmaker Mikel Arteta now faces a further six weeks of treatment after a setback in his recovery from a knee operation, while Victor Anichebe is still a long-term injury problem.

So for the Everton manager, facing a new European campaign and unimpressive form in the early Premier League matches, there are plenty of problems. He said: "This season the tournament is stronger, but we are hoping for a long run. The last two winners have been from Russia and Ukraine, so that shows the strength of football now all over Europe.

"It is very hard to pick a winner, but we aim to give it everything. We worked really hard to get into the competition last season and there are plenty of clubs who envy us. Getting through the play-off round was important and now I desperately want to get beyond the group stage.

"We have certainly got a few problems but I intend to give Bilyaletdinov his debut. It will take him time to settle in here since his move from [Lokomotiv] Moscow, and he will find the pace of the game here difficult to adjust to. But he has skill and wants to get his career here going. I also want to see him playing and the quicker he gets games under his belt the better." He added: "We lost five players in the summer and now we have lost Phil [Neville], that's six. That does make things difficult for us, I just hope we are able to cope with it." Moyes insists the Premier League remains his top priority.

He said: "This tournament will always be behind the Premier League, whatever anyone else says. But I still want us to do really well in Europe to start to re-establish this club at that level. We want to qualify for the next stage, and there are a lot of really big clubs involved."

Moyes will make a late decision on whether to use either Dan Gosling or Jack Rodwell as emergency right-back tonight in the absence of Neville and Hibbert.