Mitchell Hall > Michail Antonio achieved the form of his life after the Premier League restart last year, scoring for fun, including a four-goal haul away at Norwich to seal their fate. Since then Antonio has been predictably hampered by injuries, but whilst his fitness wavered his on pitch form held steady, with another goal on Sunday against Spurs. In his last 20 starts the powerful striker has earned himself 14 goals, a very impressive tally considering his injuries. So what can Moyes do to ensure this talisman keeps providing for the team?
One of the key things to keep in mind is that every one of Antonio’s 42 goals in the top flight have come from within the box, with over a quarter of those coming from headers. It’s clear that to be effective Antonio needs support given to him whilst he’s in the box, and his clinical finishing can do the rest. Dangerous balls into the box such as Bowen’s in-swinging ball on Sunday, or Cresswell’s spectacular assist away at Leicester earlier in the year, provide a constant goal threat when you have a striker strong enough to get to and stay in exactly the position he wants. Antonio’s power means he won’t be moved and his outstanding jumping allows him to win aerial battles comfortably. One noticeable difference is how Antonio’s non-headed finishing has improved, putting away acrobatic efforts against Manchester City and West Brom. This makes Antonio in the box all the more threatening, and a constant thought in the mind of anyone who can swing a cross in.
One aspect of Antonio’s game that is not given as much credit is his brilliant hold up play and ability to drive and outpace defences. He offers so much going forward, a staple of his game being able to take a ball down and lay it off to charging wingers to play others in – a perfect example being in the build up to Soucek’s goal against Sheffield United. Having Antonio’s strength and speed acting as a target man in front of the opposition defence means any clearance can become an attack in the blink of the eye, and having speedy support from wingers allows him to play any one of a number of options through on the counter, demonstrated by his perfectly weighted ball to Lingard for his first goal for the club.
To best utilise Antonio’s strengths, we could look to bringing back the five across the back formation, with the wing backs putting dangerous balls in for Antonio and fast wingers offering options for him on the counter. However, with the overload of attacking talent, a 4-2-3-1 could provide similar options whilst adding an extra option in the middle. This way Antonio would be able to rely less on hold up play, instead now laying it off to a player such as Fornals who can pick out the wingers whilst Antonio drives into the box and creates chaos. This allows for an extra option in the final third and at worst drags a defender out of the way, opening space for wingers to dribble or shoot. Even the seeming disadvantage of the full backs not being as advanced would only allow Soucek to make a delayed run into the box and significantly add to our aerial threat.
This happens to be our current favoured formation and is responsible for so many of our goals thus far this season, creating a truly versatile attack that is so difficult to defend against, even whilst not containing some of the big names that the ‘top six’ sides do. Provided Moyes can maintain or even improve our organisation in this formation, Antonio will continue to be a standout for the foreseeable future.