Despite David Moyes managing to keep them in the EPL, its been a poor season by West Ham United’s standards considering the quality of players they possess. Manuel Pellegrini was dismissed earlier in the season, after what could be described as a horrific start. Overall, the West Ham players have not been good enough in comparison to the quality they possess. However, one exception to this is Michail Antonio who has had an exceptional season and has proved vital in keeping West Ham United in the Premier League. His goals, assists and overall presence in West Ham’s forward line saw them pick up key results including an excellent win against Chelsea, a draw at Old Trafford with Manchester United and a key victory over Watford which saw them all but guarantee safety. It’s safe to say he has been one of West Ham’s players of the season and has played a huge part in keeping them in the Premier League.
At the start of the season, when West Ham was still under the management of Manuel Pellegrini, he wasn’t being played as much as the club had recently acquired Sébastian Haller to be the central striker. Due to Injuries, lack of form and an eventual change of manager, he hasn’t played as much as he would have hoped meaning West Ham needed a talisman. Antonio has delivered 10 goals this season which makes him West Ham’s top scorer. These 10 goals came with him making 24 appearances which is an impressive record considering he hasn’t played as many games as other West Ham attackers. When we analyse Antonio’s performances since the Premier League has returned, we see a mature player who is capable of playing at the highest level. The month of July alone has seen him score eight goals including the game against Norwich whereby he scored four in one game. Its been an excellent performance by Michail Antonio since the Premier League has returned, and David Moyes’s decision to make him the number one striker has most certainly paid off.
This tactical analysis will look at Antonio’s form this season, with the analysis having a specific focus on his performances during the Premier League return. This analysis will also look at the tactics used by David Moyes to get the best out of him and the scout report will also examine the ways they have set up to accommodate his strengths. Wednesday 5th of August saw Antonio pick up the Premier League player of the month award, which was well deserved for his actions in keeping West Ham in the Premier League for another season.
Space in the box
Since Antonio signed for West Ham, he has played several different positions. He’s played on both wings, through the middle, as an attacking midfielder and in some cases as a full-back. However, this season, he seems to have found his best positions as a striker. Players that can play several different positions are extremely useful, however, Antonio’s main attribute this season has been to lock himself down to a position which he excels in. One aspect of his game as a striker that has allowed him to maintain a great goal scoring record is his awareness in the box. When West Ham are attacking and there is space to be found in the box for the ball to be cut back, Antonio is there waiting. This resembles a great footballing education that Antonio has, which his highlighted by his ability to find spaces in the box. The goals he is scoring, therefore, are what we call typical goals scored by centre forwards. Finding the space and arriving at the right time is what allows so many of the top strikers to add to their goal tally, which Antonio has added to his game.
Nine out of 10 of Antonio’s goals have come from within the 18-yard and 6-yard box which highlights his development of a poachers instinct Infront of goal. This can especially be seen when West Ham are on the counter-attack and there is space in the box. The balls he receives are also usually across the floor from either side which he is then able to run onto as a result of spinning away from the defender. His off the ball movement is exceptional in this regard and it always allows him to get an extra yard when it comes to making runs into the box to score from.
Below is an excellent example of this seen from West Ham’s 3-2 home victory over Chelsea. We can see the ball about to come in from the right-hand side, represented by the yellow arrow going across the box. We can also see Antonio’s run represented by the vertical line going towards the goal. The ball is fizzed across which he can run onto and score. These types of goals have been his trademark since the Premier League has returned and West Ham have very much benefited from having someone who can do this.
It could most certainly be said that due to Antonio having vast experience with playing in several attacking position, he has developed these goal-scoring abilities. By playing across the frontline he understands what types of passes that wingers and attacking midfielders are likely to play and he can adjust his position accordingly to adapt to these sorts of passes. His footballing IQ is very strong, which is evident in the positions that he takes up in attacking areas. As mentioned, his movement when he does not have the ball is second to none and this often means that he can get away from defenders who attempt to mark him very closely.
Playing as a single striker has most certainly helped in comparison to the two striker system as he is more able to find these sorts of spaces. The attribute of being able to find space in the box is valuable for any striker to possess, especially when playing against the bigger teams where chances a few in comparison to games against lesser opponents. Furthermore, this attribute is also particularly useful when it comes to playing against teams that deploy a deeper defensive line and almost operate in a low-block. We are always quick to praise attacking midfielders who can find spaces against teams that defend deep, however, it is equally as difficult against deep sitting teams for strikers to find the spaces in and around the centre-back. Antonio has an excellent knack in doing this.
Below is an example of this against Newcastle United, a team who traditionally sit deep and use the low-block. We can once again see the ball being fizzed across the box for Antonio to tap in. The noticeable aspect of this picture is the space that he manages to find himself in despite there being many Newcastle United defenders around him. This is excellent positional play and to be able to find such a space within a tight area is exceptional and is one of Antonio’s strengths when playing as a centre-forward.
We earlier discussed Antonio’s ability to find spaces in the box when West Ham are looking to play the ball on the floor and across the box for him to score. Another aspect of Antonio’s game which is noteworthy which is similar in this regard is his role when West Ham looks to get the ball into the box via an aerial route. Antonio’s ability in the air is exceptional and West Ham, especially since David Moyes returned to the club, have used this to their advantage. Despite him only scoring two headed goals this season, it is clear to see how his positioning coupled with his aerial ability always make him a threat. Within this section, looking at his positioning will be important to understand why he can be such a threat. As mentioned previously, Antonio has a real understanding of spaces and is often able to find the best space for a goal to be scored. This space is often towards the back post as the title suggests, and he enjoys making runs from deep into the back-post area to try and score a goal. This is once again to ensure that he can make a run from the out linings of the box and into the back post to receive the ball.
As mentioned, despite Antonio only having two goals from headers, the positions he takes up always cause a problem for opposition defences. West Ham, with the signing of Haller, were looking for a talisman to lead the line. However, Antonio has taken up this role fantastically well, especially with his aerial threat. Often, his runs come from the left side into the 6 yard-box in and around the back-post area. This allows the midfield players to find a cross into the box, knowing where Antonio likes to make these sorts of runs. This is more beneficial to the players crossing the ball as there is flexibility in the movement that Antonio provides.
Below is an example of this In West Ham’s 4-0 away victory at Norwich, where Antonio scored four goals. Two of these goals where headers and we can see the intention he has in making the run. We can also see which area the ball is going into and again, it is the area that Antonio often likes to find. This sort of links to the tactical setup of David Moyes and it Is clear to see that these sorts of plays are practised vigorously to give Antonio the best chance to score.
A way of highlighting how West Ham have attempted to put crosses into the box for Antonio to run onto is to look at the number of crosses they put into the box. Robert Snodgrass completed 136 crosses this season, Aaron Cresswell put in 127 crosses. West Ham also ranked 9th for most crosses put into the box. This does not signify that West ham is purely a direct team that relies on putting crosses into the box, however, they do use Antonio as an outlet in aerial situations. As discussed, there is a need to analyse his positions when he commits to these sorts of crosses. By him moving over towards the back post it also allows other players to fill in the gap at the near post. The other attacking players can move into this space that is created by Antonio’s presence at the back post which can result in a goal and has done on many occasions. This sort of movement is so important for West Ham and highlights Antonio’s importance in this regard.
Below is perhaps the best example of this. Antonio positions himself near the back post which means the Liverpool defenders are occupied with him. This allows the other attacking player to come more to the inside which results in a cross and a goal for West Ham. Antonio’s positioning is vital in this regard and he can be attributed to making the space for the eventual goal scorer. This highlights the effectiveness of Antonio at the back post.
Running in behind
For any striker, making runs when you don’t have the ball is essential. It means the opposition defence gets stretched, and space in behind the defensive line is being exploited. This is an aspect of Antonio’s game which is fantastic and one that has benefited West Ham in attacking situations. The attacking midfielders always look for the pass in behind to Antonio who makes the run using his pace. When he is found in these positions he rarely misses and this has been evident through the goals he’s scored. His runs are almost always directly through the middle, between the two centre-backs. His pace, aggression and relentlessness to get the ball in these areas are what makes him one of the best strikers in the Premier League at running in behind the defensive line. Again, it could be said that his experiences playing in different positions gave him a wider perspective as to how to make the right runs at the right time. The goals scored against, Norwich, Southampton and Watford are all examples of this.
Below is an example from West Ham’s 3-1 victory over Watford. We can see Antonio making the run in behind and being found before slotting the ball home. His intelligence to make the right run at the right time. He eventually finds the ball at his feet and he can slot the ball home. Having a striker that can make these types of runs in behind is vital for any team and Antonio has proved this during the season.
Antonio’s ability to score goals from in behind the defensive line rests heavily on the service from the midfield positions. West Ham’s record of playing balls in behind is not as high as it potentially could be. Pablo Fornals has the highest amount of through balls for West Ham with six, which is not a high amount. The next highest amount of through balls played in behind comes from Antonio himself with five, which heavily suggests that he needs more service and more of these sorts of passes. West Ham possesses excellent midfield players, such as Felipe Anderson, Snodgrass, Manuel Lanzini and many others. They should recognise Antonio’s ability to run in behind and play more through balls. There are very few defenders who can stop Antonio when he makes a run in behind, so finding him on a more regular basis would be hugely beneficial for West Ham and get him more goals. It’s clear to see that his ability to run in behind is second to none, however, finding him is something West Ham need to do more often to have further success.
Below is yet another example of this. We can see the run by Antonio which is found which he runs onto and scores. He has thrived in these situations and if he can continue to find himself in these positions he will find himself scoring a lot more goals. This could probe a potential tactical switch to ensure that West Ham is getting the best out of Antonio. With the likes of Haller coming back into the team next season, it will give them flexibility in terms of attacking options.
To conclude, 10 goals this season and a real development in his overall game has provided Antonio with a stepping stone to take his game to the next level. His performances have been enjoyable and he has been essential for West Ham staying in the Premier League for yet another season. If he is able to continue this form next season and get better service from his midfielders, there is no reason why he can’t better this goals tally and push West Ham on and up the table.