“Antonio’s too strong for Soyuncu”. “Soyuncu doesn’t know how to deal with Antonio”. “He’s too quick for Soyuncu”. “Where’s Soyuncu?”. “I’m starting to feel sorry for him, Fletch”. Just a few examples of the pearls of wisdom on commentary from Darren Fletcher and Steve McManaman as they watched Michail Antonio bully poor Caglar Soyuncu for 88 minutes in Sunday. West Ham were – to a man – superb in their 3-0 victory, and Leicester – epitomised by their Turkish centre-back’s one-sided battle with Antonio – were timid and caught short.
There was a moment, about five minutes before West Ham’s opener, in which Caglar Soyuncu attempted his early shoulder barging authority asserter. This typically ends in the opposition striker knowing he’s in for a fight. But up against Michail Antonio, nudger turned ‘nudgee’; Soyuncu bounced and ended on his arse.
Antonio knew – early on – this was a fight he was going to win: there are few he loses. As he has done more consistently in the last six months or so – the striker combined that strength with awareness and skill to give West Ham the lead.
Soyuncu, with their previous tete-a-tete fresh on his mind, fouled Antonio as he hesitated and was again outmuscled. The Hammers man took the free-kick immediately, switching the play to find Aaron Cresswell in acres of space.
Playing on the left of a back three, Cresswell stepped forward and whipped a pinpoint cross to the backpost for Antonio to head into the far corner. Soyuncu – dazed and confused – stood and watched.
Leicester were all huff but no puff. Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes were making their blindside runs. The West Ham defenders would never have caught them, but balls through the lines were either easily or expertly intercepted. The Leicester midfielders were as poor creatively as their opposite numbers were excellent in dulling their innovation. This was the first time this season that James Maddison’s absence was conspicuous.
What about that touch from Pablo Fornals? There’s something about a ‘bounce touch’, when the studs cushion the ball springing up off the turf: you can almost feel it on the sole of your own slipper. But that was just part of the brilliance displayed by the Spaniard as he doubled West Ham’s lead.
He gambled on little more than a hoofed clearance from Cresswell, timing his run to beat Leicester’s offside trap. The ball, dropping over his shoulder with
snow light drizzle on it, was killed with the first touch, knocked further into his stride with his second, and expertly poked into the near post with his third.
The £25million signing has kept his place in the team through hard work, exhibiting a level of diligence missing in the rest of West Ham’s outcast influencers’ play. But this was an example of the pure quality he was bought for, the likes of which has hasn’t always been so evident.
And it was his defence splitting pass that allowed Jarrod Bowen to slot the ball past Kasper Schmeichel: a third sterling West Ham goal to round off a truly stunning performance.
Declan Rice showed beautiful composure at the start of that move, to control the ball, shift it to one side and find Fornals through the lines to beat the press. The goal – like any of West Ham’s good play you feel – wouldn’t have been possible without Rice. £73million doesn’t seem quite such a ludicrous asking price after a brilliant start to this season, both in defence and at the base of midfield.
At one point, Darren Fletcher said “Leicester were being ‘Leicester’d'”. But this is the West Ham way, the new way. A solid defence; self-assurance and efficiency in midfield; an intense, skilful bully up top. Stay away David Moyes, this is the best the Hammers have looked in years.
Will Ford is on Twitter
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