West Ham May Not Be Pretty to Watch, But Michail Antonio Is Box Office

Oct 26, 2020, 2:00 PM GMT
Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals
Antonio scored a sensational goal against Manchester City | Pool/Getty Images
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Heading into the weekend clash with Manchester City, most West Ham fans would have been dreading the final outcome.

Not because the Hammers are looking particularly bad right now, but because City always find a way of capturing their best form when they travel to the east end of the capital.

What transpired though at an eerily - and frankly unnecessarily - empty London Stadium was anything but a Stone Cold Steve Austin-style ass whooping. Instead, we bore witness to another compact, confident display from David Moyes' band of merry troops, and one that showcased the very best of late bloomer Michail Antonio.

West Ham Antonio GIF by West Ham United - Find & Share on GIPHY

At the ripe old footballing age of 30, Antonio appears to be in the form of his life having spent the past two or three years filling in all sorts of different positions. That, and snowman impersonating at Christmas.

A winger by trade, Moyes has completed his Marko Arnautouvic inspired transformation and you'd now be hard pressed to find any Premier League defender who wouldn't acknowledge how much of a handful he is as a striker.

Quick, relentless in his running and pressing, physically strong and capable of the unexpected, Antonio has elevated himself into one of the league's biggest nuisances, and his goalscoring record - post-lockdown - stands at an impressive 11 in his last 15 Premier League games. To add the cherry onto what has already become a very nice goal-laden cake, Antonio's strike against City this past weekend was nothing short of sensational.

Positioning his body perfectly, he ensured City's major summer signing Ruben Dias could not get in front of him to clear away Vladimir Coufal's floated right wing cross, outmuscling the Portuguese before firing a sensational overhead kick past Ederson in the blink of an eye.

Mark Noble, Marko Arnautovic
Antonio's transformation is similar to Marko Arnautovic's upturn in fortunes under Moyes | Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

It was a remarkable goal from a player who has had many detractors during his time at West Ham, namely around his ability with the ball. Granted, he can be cumbersome and clumsy, but refinement isn't what Antonio's game is based around. Persistence, endeavour and wearing opponents down is what spurs him on, with that particular goal an example of what he is capable of producing on his day.

Admittedly, his stint as lone striker - flanked by Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen - is one that this writer has previously called into question. Those words, perhaps influenced by the emotion of being thoroughly outplayed and by a very beatable Newcastle, still ring true to do a degree, but Antonio's approach to playing up front has evolved since that dreadful opening day.

No longer is he required to run the channels all game long, because Moyes' tactical tweak - shifting to a 5-3-2 or 3-5-2, rather than an exposed 4-2-3-1 - to employ wing-backs has enabled Fornals and Bowen to push higher up in support. No longer is Antonio looking to do everything himself, he's looking to interchange with box-to-box midfielder Tomas Soucek, as well as those aforementioned wing-backs - Coufal and Arthur Masuaku.

Antonio can now run in behind and use his pace to stretch the game, or he can come short in the knowledge that Bowen and Fornals are not only tucked a little further inside, they're also five to ten yards closer to him.

Michail Antonio
Antonio was on the scoresheet against Manchester City | Pool/Getty Images

That small change may sound insignificant, but it's allowed West Ham to overload in the wide areas when the opportunity arises, playing into the strengths of Antonio and, in particular, Soucek.

The style of football being employed at West Ham isn't pretty, we all know that. But what it is - and Moyes knows it - is effective with the type of players he got at the club, and it's a way of playing that allows Antonio to put defenders on the back front, rather than the other way around.

When he's able to do that, Antonio is not only good, he's box office. Let's hope that the knock that forced him off just after half-time isn't too serious, eh?

For more from Toby Cudworth, follow him on Twitter!

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