West Ham United were one of a few surprise packages last season, as the East London side narrowly missed out on a top-four Premier League place, eventually finishing in a commendable seventh spot.
A strong player in the team that made immense contributions to their great campaign was midfielder Michail Antonio.
Making his debut season in the top flight, the 26-year-old consistently put in impressive performances that belied his lack of Premier League experience all season-long, prompting West Ham to hand him an improved contract extension just under a year after his arrival.
As Slaven Bilic looks forward to challenging even hard in the new season, Antonio, who has quickly become a fan favourite, will be heavily relied upon to deliver at an optimal level. Here is how the Englishman can contribute to the club’s top four mission.
MORE GOALS / ASSISTS
Antonio’s goals last season were mainly critical strikes. From the winner against Spurs to the equaliser against Southampton, and not forgetting goals against Liverpool and Manchester United, the former Nottingham Forest star always came to West Ham’s rescue when it was least expected and needed the most.
Eight goals and three assists in just 26 league appearances for a newcomer are impressive, and this tally is likely to increase in his second season in a league that he is becoming more and more accustomed too.
His all-round play that includes retaining possession and beating players easily is key to what makes him one of the best players in West Ham’s ranks.
Primarily a right-sided attacking midfielder, Antonio had to settle for a full-back role upon entering the fray last season but after a few decent performances, he was called upon to play in his preferred position.
Besides one glaring error that led to a goal; Antonio’s defensive statistics were top notch given his make-shift situation. 70% tackle success, 57 interceptions and 129 ball recoveries highlight how well he adapted to the new role last season, and Bilic having the option to play him in two different areas increases Antonio’s worth to West Ham considerably.
The unparalleled strength and aerial abilities possessed by the 26-year old show that this is an athlete at the top of his game. Antonio’s versatility comes as a result of this.
SETTLING FURTHER INTO THE TEAM’S STYLE OF PLAY
West Ham are known for converting set pieces indirectly and relying heavily on long crosses into the box to score goals. Six of Antonio’s goals last season came from headers as a result, and that’s something Bilic will want to take even more advantage of in this new campaign.
The strength and power that Antonio has is perfect for the Hammers, and the player appears to have found a club that suits his traits well. Both he and West Ham can benefit from each other.