It may not have happened in the way that many would’ve expected but it was inevitable.
West Ham will be without the services of their leading talisman Michail Antonio for their next Premier League outing, the tricky test of league leaders Manchester United, after the 31-year-old striker was sent off on Saturday afternoon.
In what was described as “stupid” by David Moyes, Antonio lunged into a tackle on Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo in the fifth minute of injury time to pick up his second yellow card.
The east Londoners failed to secure a new forward during the summer transfer window, so it now leaves the Scot in a tough predicament as he does not have the options to replace him outright, so this will come as a devastating blow ahead of a huge encounter.
Given Antonio’s injury history, we knew this situation was coming at some point, so they can count their lucky stars that it’s only a one-game ban and not something much longer as that would seriously hamper their unbeaten start to the 2021/22 season.
So, who should step up in the role?
There are plenty of options to choose from.
Andriy Yarmolenko could be given a rare lifeline but considering he started just one league game last season – even when Antonio was in the squad too – it would be hard to imagine the Irons’ highest-paid player coming back into the starting XI anytime soon.
Said Benrhama is another who could step up and play a false nine-type role, especially after kickstarting the season with two goals and two assists. He’s already surpassed his goal tally from last season (one) and did find himself play up top on two occasions, too.
Moyes could even turn to the youth team in a desperate bid to find an alternative, with Thierry Nevers the most likely candidate following Mipo Odubeko’s loan to Huddersfield Town.
However, the best choice has to be Jarrod Bowen, who has also started the campaign on fire.
As per WhoScored ratings, the 24-year-old dynamo currently ranks as Moyes’ third-best player after their opening four matches, behind only Antonio and Declan Rice.
His average of 2.3 dribbles and 1.3 shots per game suggests that he can continue to be a nuisance to any Premier League backline, no matter the position he’s deployed in.
Bowen has experience in leading the line, too.
The former Hull City and Hereford United gem has played as a centre-forward or a second striker on 25 occasions, where he has scored nine goals and provided seven assists, as per Transfermarkt’s recorded matches.
During his time at the KCOM Stadium, Bowen was lauded as “unplayable” in attack and more recently, talkSPORT pundit Simon Jordan described him as a “world-beater” (31 August, 10:50am).
The £26m-rated attacker must be the one to replace Antonio next weekend. Moyes could move him forward and bring summer signing Nikola Vlasic into the side, with Pablo Fornals and Benrahma able to run the channels instead.