Football Features

“Michail Antonio is box-office” – Five things learned as West Ham shock Chelsea to pick up priceless win

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:38, 1 July 2020

In an incredible night of football, West Ham came from behind to beat Chelsea 3-2 at the London Stadium.

The win gives the Hammers an enormous boost in their fight against relegation while denting the hell out of Chelsea’s grip on fourth place. What did we learn?

1. Michail Antonio is box office

Michail Antonio is 30 years old, has no defined position and has scored in the double digits within a single season just once in his career, half a decade ago for Nottingham Forest. He’s become a West Ham staple and in many ways he sums the London club up perfectly.

Antonio can be sensational to watch, his balance and dribbling skill combined with his pace and strength see him obliterate defenders with absurd ease. One move where he drifted by Antonio Rudiger like the German wasn’t there was a sight to behold. He plays the game like a man having a fist-fight on top of a speeding train. It’s chaos and it’s enthralling.

Of course in that chaos, he frequently messes up the execution of his final pass and shot. So the aforementioned dribble on Rudiger was superb, but then when 1v1 with Kepa he skewed it wide when it was easier to hit the target.

Antonio always finds a way to be involved, though. He just has that innate superstar quality that always sees him at the centre of attention. Today he first missed a sitter, then was at fault for West Ham’s goal being disallowed because he was lying on the floor. Finally he felt like he should have had a penalty but, after being denied, 10 seconds later he popped up to put West Ham in the lead.

Even later, after Chelsea had equalised, Antonio continued to shine. First he turned a hopeful pass into a good chance with his electric speed, but then at the last, with stoppage time approaching, his chest control, turn and supreme pass through to Andriy Yarmolenko led to West Ham’s winning goal. It was a miraculous assist, as beautiful a bit of play as you’d see all night.

Michael Antonio was born in South London, but his hurricane style of play makes him the perfect fit for the madcap East London side. Whether he’s excelling or failing, you know it’s going to be box office.

2. Prince Willian

Willian joined Chelsea the year after Eden Hazard, and whilst he never possessed the outright genius of the Belgian he was still pretty spectacular. He has been an unappreciated player pretty much throughout his Chelsea career and will likely leave the club on a free transfer this summer. That is baffling. Not so much that Chelsea want to move him on, as they have a corps of young wingers with exceptional talent on the books for next season, but that there isn’t already a host of clubs beating down the door to sign him.

Just look at all the big games where Willian has stepped up this season: Manchester City and Liverpool spring to mind. And today when the Blues needed him the most he twice savaged West Ham with his set-piece skill. First nervelessly converting Chelsea’s penalty and then, with the Blues losing and under pressure he buried a stunning free-kick into the back of the net. He was constantly driving Chelsea forward.

3. Chelsea’s kit as big a miss as their performance

As much as the Blues’ disappointing performance must have frustrated Chelsea fans, the Blues’ new kit showed why clubs need to keep their sponsor in mind when approving shirt designs. On the one hand, Chelsea’s kit is a slick and minimalist design that showcases that famous royal blue with some subtle navy trim to add depth.

But the whole thing is ruined by slapping a great big splodge like new shirt sponsor Three’s logo in the middle of the shirt. The business of the mobile operators logo would work on a busier shirt, but given the way it’s just placed there on what is otherwise a sleek design ends up making the Chelsea kit look like a training strip.

For today at least, that made sense, as the Blues played with all the intensity and focus of a training session and were thoroughly dispatched by West Ham as a result. The loss was their 10th of the season and the only other time they’ve lost as many matches as that since Roman Abramovich’s takeover was in their famously disastrous 2015/16 season.

4. The Turning Point

West Ham came into this game desperate for a win to try and put some distance between themselves and the relegation places. Incredibly, they got exactly what they wanted. Almost more impressive than the result was the performance, in which they matched Chelsea, had a goal denied by VAR and then went 0-1 down only to come back to lead 2-1. Then when that lead got eaten up West Ham continued to push and in the end pick up the win.

West Ham never gave up, never let themselves be rattled, and completed an incredible league double over Chelsea. For a team that had dropped 22 points from winning positions, that is remarkable. Antonio was resplendent, Jarrod Bowen creative, Andriy Yarmolenko decisive. If they can keep playing like that, they have a great chance of staying up because they will get results.

The result they got today, a huge win, puts them on 30 points with a -18 goal difference. This means they are three points clear of the bottom three and even have a side placed between them in Watford on 28 points. Could this be the turning point for West Ham’s season?

5. Chelsea’s dire defending keeps Man Utd and Wolves in the hunt

As much as the game could change West Ham’s season, it almost certainly will keep Chelsea’s on a knife-edge. The Blues (and Leicester above them) have seen their grip on the Champions League places (which previously felt unassailable) chipped down to now just two points.

Manchester United and Wolves are on 52 points and both sides look sharper and in better form than Chelsea, who relied on the smashiest of smash-and-grabs against Manchester City to pick up victory in a game they were thoroughly outplayed in, before having similar done to them by West Ham here tonight.

Chelsea’s defensive performance in East London was shocking, with the lack of organisation at first-half set-pieces (with César Azpilicueta getting repeatedly dominated by Tomas Soucek in the air) and Kepa’s weak goalkeeping marking a first-half and then Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen’s sophomoric defending and profound lack of awareness helping West Ham score twice in the second half.

The Blues are not in fantastic rhythm despite their largely positive form and although they have an easy run of games coming up they end their season with back-to-back matches against Liverpool and Wolves. As things stand it seems almost impossible that the final game of the season won’t be meaningful for both sides as well as Manchester United.

The title may have been wrapped up already but the top-four race is well and truly on.