With his feet to the fire and his replacements lining up, Manuel Pellegrini needed some inspiration to beat in form Chelsea at their home ground Stamford Bridge. Many inspirations were cited – Mark Noble rallied the Hammers before kick-off in west London, keeper switch and formation change. However, the key storyline of the match was performance of Michail Antonio.
Antonio, who missed most of the winless seven-game run due to a hamstring injury, started as the lone striker at Stamford Bridge. Pellegrini choosing to drop £45m striker Sebastien Haller for Michail Antonio was a game winning gamble which paid off instant dividends. Antonio was physical and lively all match (until his substitution), getting three shots (two on target) excluding a VAR called back goal. Antonio chased each loose ball and although Haller featured as a sub, Antonio may keep him on the bench for some time.
Michail Antonio said “This is the start of the season, we will go from here and we will build and we will start moving into the league.Football these days, you have nothing to hide, you are under the microscope so you can see everything. So you see Pellegrini, you (Unai) see Emery being fired (by Arsenal), so it’s just one of the things you’re not doing well. It’s a result of the game, when you’re not doing well, People are going to start talking about your work. If you start off well, the conversation is about new contracts. So all you can do is keep playing your football, ignore what’s out there and keep doing what you can. As a professional, everybody wants to do well, everybody wants to work there. When we don’t win it affects everyone as well as not just the manager, but the manager has lost his job and we can’t lose our work. So we have to stick to what he brings out because he can’t go out there and do it himself. Obviously we do the pressure, we understand that we put him in this situation and we need to get out there and perform for him.”
When healthy, Antonio brings traits that are unique to the side: power, pace, and strength that absolutely terrorizes opposing full-backs. Antonio’s ability to play in various positions across the front line makes him a valuable asset in the manager’s squad. Antonio has played mostly winger along the right side, but he has shown goal scoring abilities like a center forward. Quick cameo against Tottenham Spurs in last match as well as heroics against Chelsea may finally overcome his perceived flaws like lack of touch and finishing ability in and around the box.