Why Michail Antonio deserves more respect as a goalscorer rather than just a nuisance

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Why Michail Antonio deserves more respect as a goalscorer rather than just a nuisance - Reuters
Why Michail Antonio deserves more respect as a goalscorer rather than just a nuisance - Reuters

Whenever a Premier League team of the season is picked at this time of year, it is not long before the cry goes up condemning big club bias and our tendency to overlook players outside of the so-called 'big six'.

Often this is slightly contrived, but one player who surely deserves more recognition is West Ham's Michail Antonio. If his hamstrings were not quite so delicate, David Moyes' side may well have lasted the distance in the race for Champions League football.

Antonio's ability to mess centre-halves around and be a general nuisance is frequently noted, but his ability to sniff out high-quality chances in the penalty area is possibly undervalued. Considering Antonio came late to the centre forward role having been a positional nomad for much of his career, he has well attuned goalscoring instincts.

West Ham travel to Brighton on Saturday and Antonio has been directly involved in 14 goals in his last 13 away Premier League starts with 11 goals and three assists. Antonio has scored 24 away goals for West Ham in the Premier League, five more than any other player for the club.

His underlying numbers are also very strong. When penalties are removed from the equation, Antonio has the highest expected goals per 90 average of any player in the league with more than 500 minutes on the clock this season.

Non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes, Premier League 2020-21

Antonio's 0.65 non-penalty expected goals per 90 is better than Edinson Cavani, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and even Harry Kane. Granted, Antonio's injuries mean he has played 1,734 minutes compared to more than 2,800 in the case of Kane, but it is a hugely valuable quality for a striker to possess.

Moyes also believes that the switch to striker will help prolong Antonio's career, with fewer bursts in wide areas preserving his fragile hamstrings. Should West Ham face Europa League football next season, rotation would become all important.

How different the table might look if Antonio was wearing a Brighton shirt rather than a West Ham one. Graham Potter's team might well be having West Ham's season. Brighton are fifth in the standings based on expected goal difference but have not been able to put the ball in the net.

West Ham will also be a club looking to sign a striker this summer, with links to Eddie Nketiah and Tammy Abraham, but whoever arrives will have a job on to dislodge Antonio.

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