Michail Antonio is having a brilliant start to 2019


When Michail Antonio gets going with the ball at his feet he’s pretty hard to stop. His powerful running combined with quick thinking mean he can bulldoze his way through the opposition or jink his way past. The West Ham man had struggled to have an impact at the beginning of the season, however, he’s looking to be back towards his best based on recent performances, especially those coming since the turn of the New Year.

This week has been the epitome of what the Hammers’ number 30 is great at. Having played the full 90 minutes three games in a row, Manuel Pellegrini had opted to leave Antonio on the bench for Wednesday’s home match against Brighton & Hove Albion. He was eventually substituted on for Robert Snodgrass in the 63rd minute with his side 2-0 down, due to goals from Dale Stephens and Shane Duffy.

Mark Noble –who’d come on at the same time as Antonio- had set up Marko Arnautovic to make it 2-1 just five minutes after the pair had been introduced to play. Just two minutes later it was the winger who announced himself. With Jürgen Locadia and Bernardo doubling up on him, he kept them guessing until he was ready to make his move. He then pushed the ball past the Brazilian full back, barged him away and just kept the ball in play, cutting it back to Arnautovic. The Austrian took a touch and poked it into the net off the underside of the crossbar.

With Antonio wreaking havoc down the right hand side, West Ham were able to make other opportunities in the game, putting the Seagulls under sustained and intense pressure. Brighton stood strong though and held on for the draw, but nothing can be taken away from the impact Antonio and Noble had.

Three days later and he was starting at right back in the FA Cup against Birmingham City. He has displayed a disdain for playing at full back in the past, when continuously played there by Slaven Bilic. However, with Ryan Fredericks injured and Pablo Zabaleta ill, Antonio has had to fill in there at times in the last month, putting in stellar performances.

Yesterday’s 2-0 win was another of those great showings, as he assisted West Ham’s second goal of the game for the second match in a row. This time, the Hammers had gone up within two minutes and had been in danger of letting their lead slip. It was in the 91st minute that Antonio helped secure West Ham’s progression to the fourth round. He received the ball from Robert Snodgrass and took a touch out of his feet. He then sent a perfectly weighted cross towards Andy Carroll who rose above the defender to head in his first goal since returning from injury.

Aside from that moment, Antonio’s link up play with 20-year-old Grady Diangana was tantalising. The pair put together some brilliant combinations to great effect, taunting the Birmingham defence for the entirety of the game. Diangana was arguably the standout player for the Hammers, but his performance was certainly helped by the overlapping runs and slip balls that Antonio provided him with.

Antonio will be hoping to keep his impressive run of form in 2019 going when Arsenal visit the London Stadium on Saturday. The Gunners have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four league matches, so Antonio and his team mates will look to exploit any defensive frailties they may meet.


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Who will replace Andriy Yarmolenko?

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As Andriy Yarmolenko was stretchered off against Tottenham Hotspur, it was quickly apparent that he would be out for a while. However, it will have surprised many to find that it will be around six months until he’s back on the pitch due to a torn Achilles tendon. The injury came at the most unfortunate of times, as the Ukrainian had gained some momentum following a tough start to life in East London.

With that game ending 1-0 to Spurs, it was the second match in a row in which West Ham failed to score. Therefore, whoever does replace him on the right wing will have to get off to a good start and help top scorer Marko Arnautovic out in front of goal. Manuel Pellegrini has favoured the 4-3-3 which saw his side’s initial upturn in form so will likely be looking to put a direct replacement into the side so he can stick with this system, meaning he’ll have a dilemma as to who he assigns the role.

The most obvious choice in the minds of many would be Michail Antonio. The former Hammer of the Year even started the season on the right flank ahead of Yarmolenko. However, it is his poor performances which allowed the Ukrainian to get himself into the starting line up. So far this season Antonio has been underwhelming, as he has been wasteful with the ball at his feet and hasn’t looked as powerful as in the past. Neither Manuel Pellegrini and West Ham’s supporters seem to be overly impressed with the Englishman at the moment, so he will have to improve upon his showings so far this campaign if he is to fill the spot for such an extended period of time.

Another option is Robert Snodgrass. Having struggled in the early stages of his West Ham career the Scotsman is very much in Pellegrini’s plans. Snodgrass has been played on the right previously this season, though it seems as though the manager sees him as a central midfielder, with his last two starts coming in the midfield three. He hasn’t been able to completely hold down a place in the starting XI yet, so a move back to the right flank could be an option for the man who Pellegrini has openly shown he is a big fan of.

Academy graduate Grady Diangana is the last option. Prior to the 8-0 win against Macclesfield Town there will have been many a West Ham fan who didn’t even know who he is. However, his two goals and eye catching performance earned plenty of plaudits and the attention of his manager. So much so that when Yarmolenko was injured, it was the 20-year-old who was picked to come off the bench for the remaining 51 minutes- even with Antonio on the bench. His performance did his chances of getting more first team opportunities no harm, as he looked comfortable against a higher level of opposition than he is used to. His confidence allowed his technical ability to shine through and he arguably should have been awarded a penalty after a challenge from Harry Winks. If Pellegrini does opt to put Diangana in it would be a real showing of faith in the youngster, though after the two games he’s played many would say he deserves the chance.

Whoever he does pick will need to have a big game on Saturday against a Leicester side who will be determined to get a result following two losses in a row. They will also be directly facing Ben Chilwell, a man whose stock has risen considerably in recent times resulting in his first ever England caps. It will be a test for whoever is chosen, but for three men who have spent time on the bench recently it’s the perfect opportunity to show the manager they deserve to take the new slot in the team.


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Carabao Cup helping to bring feel-good factor to the London Stadium

London Stadium

Many in England scoff at the Carabao Cup. A competition sponsored by an energy drink which is hardly ever actually seen in shops, with a blooper in pretty much every draw, the competition is a laughing stock to some. It’s one of them things in football where you want to win it if you’re in the competition, but most people aren’t that fussed when they’re knocked out of the ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’.

West Ham are still in the cup and having not won silverware for years they would absolutely love to win it. Their manager would too, as Manuel Pellegrini has openly expressed his desire to do well in the competition which he won twice during his time with Manchester City. However, this year the Carabao Cup has arguably meant more than silverware for the Hammers, as it has provided a feel good factor at the London Stadium which surely played its part in the positive recent results.

Yes, the two games so far have been against AFC Wimbledon and Macclesfield Town, from League One and League Two respectively, but that doesn’t matter. This competition has undoubtedly helped the Hammers settle into a season which has seen plenty of change regarding both the playing and managerial staff.

The match away at Kingsmeadow saw West Ham pick up their first competitive victory of the season with a 3-1 win. It wasn’t the greatest performance but it afforded Pellegrini a sigh of relief which the league hadn’t provided him by that point. Having struggled against Arsenal on his debut, Issa Diop put in a commendable performance, scoring a brilliant goal from range. Chicharito was handed a rare moment of joy as his shot in the dying moments crept into the net.

Having seen form pick up after that result, with a win against Everton and draw at home to Chelsea in the league, the Macclesfield match was an opportunity to keep the feel-good factor at the London Stadium. That was certainly achieved. After enduring tough starts to life in East London Ryan Fredericks and Lucas Perez both got their first goals in claret and blue. Robert Snodgrass continued the rejuvenation of his West Ham career as he got his first ever West Ham goals (as well as two assists).

It was also a brilliant evening for the academy: Grady Diangana made his debut, scored two goals and secured the man of the match award, Declan Rice ran the midfield when he came on for the injured Carlos Sanchez, Conor Coventry looked comfortable in the middle of the park when he came on for his debut and Joe Powell, another debutant, got two assists. Also, let’s be honest, it’s not very often we’ll see West Ham win 8-0, even if it is against the team sitting at the bottom of League Two.

As the draw for the next round approaches following today’s 3-1 win against Manchester United, West Ham’s supporters should watch on with excitement. It may not have given the club any glamour matches so far, but the Carabao Cup has undoubtedly contributed to the positivity that currently surrounds the London Stadium. Especially following the team’s upturn in form, this competition offers the Hammers a chance to inject further excitement into their season, not to mention a chance of silverware and a place in the Europa League. That’s not something to be laughed at.


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Diangana’s dream debut


It’s safe to say West Ham enjoyed last night. The Hammers compounded more misery on Macclesfield Town –who sit bottom of League 2- with an 8-0 defeat. There were plenty of highlights for the men in claret and blue: Robert Snodgrass scored his first ever West Ham goals, Ryan Fredericks and Lucas Perez bagged for the first time since joining in the summer, while Conor Coventry and Joe Powell came off the bench to make their first team debuts with the latter getting two assists. However, the biggest celebrations of the night were reserved for 20-year-old Grady Diangana. The winger started the match, making his first team debut, looked incredibly bright throughout and marked a brilliant performance with two well taken goals and the man of the match award.

Prior to last night’s game there will have been many Hammers fans who hadn’t heard of Diangana. He went about his work quickly in this match though, ensuring people won’t forget his name in a hurry. Operating mainly from the right hand side, from the very first whistle he was fearlessly running at the Macclesfield defence. There were numerous times where he had left back David Fitzpatrick twisting and turning in vain as he attempted to regain possession.

However, it was a different side of the youngster’s game which contributed to the Hammers’ first goal of the evening. Following Snodgrass’ 29th minute corner, Diangana fought to ensure Ty Marsh couldn’t clear. The ball eventually cannoned off Diangana’s foot, falling to fellow academy graduate Declan Rice who lifted the ball towards the six yard box for Michail Antonio to head in.

A mixture of Dinagana’s skill and poor defending from Macclesfield led to the second goal in the 32nd minute. The 20-year-old cut inside Fitzpatrick before firing a shot off, which Kieran O’Hara was only able to parry up into the air. Macclesfield’s defenders tried to clear the ball away from the line, but in the end West Ham’s Scotsman tapped it in from just inches out.

By half time the score was 3-0 as Aaron Cresswell crossed in for Lucas Perez who volleyed the ball into the net. Conor Coventry was brought on at half time and the goals kept coming in the second half. Ryan Fredericks broke into the box and finished emphatically, Ogbonna then headed home a corner ball before Robert Snodgrass stabbed the ball home on the hour mark to make the score 6-0.

While all of this had been going on Diangana continued to dazzle with his technical quality, but a deserved goal was so far eluding him. He was given a bit of help by his fellow Academy of Football graduate Joe Powell, who replaced Michail Antonio in the 61st minute. Just six minutes after the 19-year-old came on he played a one-two with Diangana on the edge of the box. West Ham’s number 45 then shifted the ball away from the approaching defenders onto his right foot and struck the ball past the goalkeeper. The joy on his face lit up the entire stadium as he celebrated by doing the irons sign with his arms in front of the supporters.

The pair weren’t finished quite yet though. In the 82nd minute Diangana made a run in behind the Macclesfield defence, was picked out by a pinpoint through ball from Powell and calmly placed the ball into the far corner. This was to be the last goal of the match, with the scoreboard reading 8-0 at the full time whistle.

It was an impressive performance all round from the Hammers, but everyone was talking about Diangana as they left the London Stadium. He had been named man of the match and there won’t have been many who disagreed with that verdict. While supporters must not get carried away and it’s unlikely that he will be involved against Manchester United this weekend, the 20-year-old will definitely have forced his way into Manuel Pellegrini’s thinking. Even if he doesn’t feature in the league in the near future, we can surely expect Diangana to get another Carabao Cup chance. He’s displayed here that he has plenty of talent, if it is nurtured correctly we could eventually see him in the first team with Declan Rice for years to come.


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