West Ham recorded an impressive fifth win in their last six games to ensure they entered the top half of the table for the first time this season but, while Felipe Anderson stole the headlines with his game-winning, second brace in claret and blue, there was an unlikely hero in the Hammers ranks.
Michail Antonio has spent time at the pinnacle of Irons fans’ opinions but has, also, often been subject to heavy criticism, however he provided one of his best performances for the east London club in recent memory as he filled in for Pablo Zabaleta at right-back.
The former Nottingham Forest man’s utility remains an asset to West Ham regardless of his form and his ability to deputise up front, on the wing or in defence makes him a commodity as Manuel Pellegrini and co. work around a decimating injury crisis.
Playmaker in chief Manuel Lanzini missed his international side’s World Cup campaign due to an injury sustained in June and has been out of action since, with a return estimated to be in February; summer signings Andriy Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshire, Carlos Sanchez, Ryan Fredericks and Fabian Balbuena are all on the treatment table, too; while hitmen Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic both have thigh problems (all Premier Injuries).
The Argentine boss will surely be relieved that he didn’t offload the number 3o ahead of the start of the season – Crystal Palace’s summer striker search led them to Antonio but a deal never crossed the line – and his transformation from being on the fringe and ready to leave into one of the Hammers’ most crucial players is both unexpected and creditable to Pellegrini.
In a tightly contested clash with the Saints which exploded just after the halfway mark, the 28-year-old did well to neutralise the threat of Stuart Armstrong as he won 3 aerial duels, while also being instrumental on the front foot as he whipped in 2 crosses.
The Englishman has been previously mocked for often dribbling into blind alleys and losing the ball but caused mayhem down the right flank as he completed an incredible 8 dribbles – quadruple his previous best figure this season (2).
Anderson may have got the goals, but Antonio’s 100 touches show that much of his side’s creation and attacking threat was channelled through him and, in a game where the Irons were lacking many of their key men, that confidence to get on the ball and make things happen is crucial.
Finally, the speedster completed 2 key passes on the way to victory, owing to his natural instinct as a winger to create chances – while he may be out of position now and then, Antonio should be commended for his willingness to put a shift in wherever he is required to play. `
Equally, Pellegrini deserves enormous credit for making such small tactical, team-sheet tweaks to keep his side’s good run going and, while much was made of his near £100m spending spree, the Argentine’s strength is proving to be his effective management of the players who were already at the London Stadium when he arrived.
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