No squad depth could have been the deciding factor in a failed West Ham season, instead, David Moyes has a free-flowing attack that is difficult to define. What was once an apparent fragility of the team is now one of this squad’s defining factors.
Against Tottenham, no one really knew if lone striker Michail Antonio would be fit enough to be risked for a sentimental London Derby. Without him, West Ham would be left with a few stop-gap options, but no proven out-and-out center forward.
With Antonio getting the nod after missing the Sheffield United match, it only took five minutes for him to make his presence known. He called for Jarrod Bowen’s cross and buried his own rebound to open the scoring.
Antonio’s presence was extremely important in this game for the goal and his usual pacey, muscly outlet role that he fills like no one else on this team. What his teammates showed early in the second half is that his unique role doesn’t have to act alone in instigating and finishing offensive chances.
While having a talisman like Michail Antonio is needed, he doesn’t define the West Ham attack.
Enter Jesse Lingard, Moyes’ chosen man from his Manchester United days, who has helped redefine and sharpen the attack, with or without Antonio in the team. His goal to open the second half showed the unpredictable Irons attack, with fluidity across the front line.
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Antonio’s holdup play secured Aaron Cresswell’s pass which then brought Lingard and Pablo Fornals into the play, all on the left flank. With Antonio pinned by Sanchez, Lingard ran the open channel and finished off his own chance with Fornals lurking for any scraps.
Within 10 seconds West Ham saw Issa Diop, Cresswell, Lingard, Fornals, and Antonio touch the ball, all within 20 feet of the left side touchline. The collapse was on, but it wasn’t an all-out panic defensive collapse, but a smothering ball recovery that sprung the team forward.
Having Michail Antonio back provides a lot to Moyes’ team. He can run, hold up the play, get central on attacking runs, and be a factor in the air, but somehow this feel-good Hammers team isn’t hamstrung by his absences as much as it might appear.
Against Sheffield United, a team surely facing relegation but primed for a late-season resurgence, West Ham continued on without their striker, business as usual, and dominated the boxscore with a 3-0, comfortable win.
This isn’t down to injecting Lingard into the team, but rather a group of attackers buying in on Moyes’ tactics and planning. This includes Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma sitting and getting rotated in with Lingard and Fornals based on the match is huge when getting the most out of the team.
With European football still the target, the difficult stretch of matches the Hammers have left this season will require the buy-in on strategy and player deployment that Moyes has stuck to. If the passports are to be prepped it’ll be on the back of hard work and the buying in on a fluid and multidimensional attack, as they’ve shown in recent weeks.