Analysing Michail Antonio's match-winning display against Bournemouth
Following Andre Ayew’s injury in West Ham United’s season opener at Chelsea, which saw the Hammers succumb to a 2-1 defeat, Michail Antonio found himself re-deployed in his favoured right-wing forward position in Slaven Bilic’s 4-3-3 set-up in their victory against Bournemouth on Sunday.
The match was the first ever Premier League fixture at the Hammers’ new London Stadium home, based in the former Olympic Park. After a build-up in a partisan atmosphere, with bubbles cascading around the ground as the East London club’s famous anthem echoed around their new arena, a game which promised so much after a 4-3 classic last season at the Boleyn Ground in which the visitors took the points, ended up a rather subdued affair, and the Hammers left it late with Antonio himself rising five minutes from time to head the winner from Gokhan Tore’s cross, eight minutes after Bournemouth’s Harry Arter had seen red for a second yellow card.
It took the stroke of luck of Bournemouth going a man light to finally shatter their stubborn resistance, but Antonio looked far more effective back in his favoured advanced role after spending a spell at right-back. Whilst Sam Byram excelled in that role, Antonio showed he has much to offer in his preferred position having been a thorn in the side of Eddie Howe’s Cherries throughout the contest.
He attempted four shots in the game including his headed goal to take the game to Bournemouth, completed four dribbles beyond his full-back and played two key chance-creating passes in the final third, as well as drawing one foul in a key area, and wasn’t caught offside once. In his advanced role he also has the capacity to be in key areas when required, as shown by his perfectly timed arrival and jump to nod home Turkish international Tore’s cross for West Ham’s late winner.
Bilic’s use of Antonio at right-back for the first fixture was with support of the attack in mind, as the Croatian coach aims to get his full-backs high up the pitch in support and overlapping the wide-men, but in his one game at right-back this season against Chelsea, Antonio played no key passes, had no shots and only completed two dribbles beyond an opponent; meaning that back in his favoured advanced role he has far more to offer, with a right-back by trade in Sam Byram getting up the pitch in support with Arthur Masuaku on the opposite flank.
His performance and goal back in his favoured position has also added to an Antonio trend; the former Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest man seems to cherish home comforts, with seven of his nine goals in the Premier League coming at the Hammers’ home ground- six at the old Boleyn Ground and now the first ever Premier League goal at the new London Stadium. He didn’t get the final goal at the old Upton Park, but he did find the net in their farewell game, against Manchester United, scoring their second goal in an eventual 3-2 victory to say the perfect goodbye to the home they’d occupied for 112 years.
The winger has once more demonstrated his adept aerial ability despite his role out-wide also. Antonio now has a joint league-high of seven headed goals in the Premier League since the start of the 2015/16 season, tied with Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, and his wonderfully timed leap was the perfect way in which to equal that record and just the tonic for the roughly 55,000 Hammers fans in attendance who craved a first win in their new dwelling.
Antonio is a very direct player, and even if he exchanges passes he always looks to run onto balls as shown by some clever one-two play with Mark Noble on the right-flank, and he seems almost to have been wasted at right-back in previous fixtures for the Hammers. He in fact created the opportunity for Tore to cross the ball from his winner, having broken away down the right and whipped in a slightly overhit cross which the Turkish winger recovered, and his eventual ball in found Antonio’s head after a clever run in behind to head the ball into Artur Boruc’s net.
Having had the desired impact back in his preferred area for the Irons, and with record-signing Andre Ayew facing a long lay-off with injury, which should equate to roughly four months, his positive showing against the Cherries may have forced Slaven Bilic to reconsider using Antonio in his favoured role more regularly once again this campaign, particularly so as Sam Byram took his chance with both hands in the right-back role and looked more than comfortable with the step-up from Championship to Premier League.
With a right-back by trade to fill in defensively in Byram, and an Antonio looking like he has more to offer in attack, the shifting of the winger may go some way towards ensuring that a depleted West Ham United remain a force both domestically and in Europe this season. His manager will be hoping he can chip in more away from home, but in East London, Antonio on the right-wing is leading the way for the resurgent Hammers.
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