Can this West Ham's Michail Antonio prove the difference against Watford?
It has been some year for West Ham United winger Michail Antonio. Ever since joining the Hammers from Championship outfit Nottingham Forest, he has lit the Premier League alight with a league high of eight headed top flight goals since his debut in August 2015, to help Slaven Bilic’s West Ham become European contenders, despite falling in the Europa League qualifying stages both this season and last.
His exploits have made him England’s joint most prolific midfield player since August 2015 also, with ten goals to tie himself with young international prodigy Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur, and earned him a first ever call-up to the England senior squad when Sam Allardyce summoned him to a Three Lions’ party which plundered three points from Trnava in a late 1-0 triumph over Slovakia.
Despite not getting onto the pitch to earn his first cap, the call-up handed to Antonio has been a positive sign of his remarkable progress over the past twelve months, but his manager at West Ham Slaven Bilic will be keen to keep the winger on the straight and narrow so that he may continue giving his best for his club. With a second Premier League clash at their new London Stadium home at the former Olympic Park, what better opportunity for Antonio to continue to stake his claim.
Antonio is a player who seems to relish home comforts, eight of his ten strikes in the league for the Hammers have come in East London- seven at the old Boleyn Ground- including his late headed-winner against Bournemouth on the second weekend of the new season, the first ever Premier League goal to be scored at the Hammers’ new home. With that win their only triumph in their opening three matches after two defeats on the road to Chelsea and Manchester City, Slaven Bilic will be desperate for his team to make their home form count against Watford who are still seeking their first win under new manager Walter Mazzarri. They have picked up a solitary point from their opening games- which came in a 1-1 draw at Southampton- before back-to-back home defeats against Chelsea and Arsenal.
Both teams have had very tough fixtures in the opening weeks of the season, thus this weekend’s match being set to provide a platform for both sides to really kick-start their campaign was to be expected, but with West Ham’s home record currently superior, and Watford faring slightly better away from Vicarage Road, it is set to be a fascinating clash between the sides with the points looking critical for both if they are to gather some momentum going into the second month of the new season.
In these games, the most influential players make a telling difference, and over this past year Michail Antonio has proven just that for West Ham United. What will be imperative however is how Bilic opts to use him. Antonio has proven himself far more effective when utilised in his preferred advanced role on the right of midfield but has often been deployed at right-back by the Croatian manager. With Andre Ayew still mere weeks into a long-term injury lay-off, it is possible that Sam Byram will continue to deputise in the right-back position whilst Antonio occupies his preferred advanced role. However if new-signing Sofiane Feghouli is able to prove his fitness after his summer arrival from Valencia, he may well start on the right flank with Dimitri Payet returning on the opposite side, meaning Antonio may once more be restricted to a deeper role.
Antonio’s impact however on that side in his midfield role is proven by both his intelligence off the ball, his service to the centre-forward in Bilic’s front-three and his goals contribution. If Feghouli proves fit to play, it would be wiser of Bilic to start the Algerian on the bench, to give Antonio the freedom to start in the position where he may wreak the most havoc on Watford’s rear-guard.
After his England call-up, the 26-year-old will be keen to maintain his fine form, and his two goals in three games this season when used as such- against Bournemouth and Manchester City- are a testament to the midfielder’s attitude and ability. Bilic must give him the freedom to offer his maximum to West Ham here, given the obvious importance of maintaining their strong home record. His summon to the international fold will only see the player brimming with further confidence, and an out-of-sorts Watford may present itself as a prime target for Bilic to really unleash Antonio’s talent once again.
Only in the eleventh hour will we know how the Hammers boss intends to set-up his side in a bid to salvage three points from Saturday afternoon’s clash at the London Stadium, but given his obvious importance to the team, particularly in the absence of Dimitri Payet after his exhausting Euro 2016 campaign, much may depend on where and how Michail Antonio is utilised. If deployed correctly, he may make a telling difference regarding whether the points remain is East London, or make the short journey north to Hertfordshire.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by mami22250.
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