As a fan that gives full backing to Slaven Bilic I’m having quite the conflict over whether Antonio at right back is, or will ever be a thing. The way I see it, he possesses all the best physical qualities that are required to be a fantastic fullback; however mentally, he is not at all defensively astute and West Ham have had to pay the price time and time again whilst he’s been in the right back slot. He has a tendency to venture forward and join the attack, which is something that is crucial to the modern full back – although, as mentioned before, this leaves him exposed.
For example, he makes a marauding, powerful run deep down the opposition flank, reaching the by-line. From there he sits up a cross, only for it to be caught by the keeper. Now with Michail by their corner flag the opposition left winger is free. A good goalkeeper will notice this and quickly distribute the ball up field towards his free man. That left winger now has acres of space, of which he can drive into towards our by-line. To ensure it’s not a free run for the wide man Winston Reid, or whoever is playing right centre back, will quickly move across to cover the space. This in turn, then drags Reid out of position, acting almost as a domino effect as the whole defence shifts over in a desperate bid to make up for Antonio’s absence. Unfortunately though, the winger now finds himself in a one-on-one with Winston in a wide area (wide one-on-one defending is a common weakness in centre halves), here he should be able to exploit Reid and get in behind. Now with Reid and Antonio out of the picture only two defenders are left to stop the opposition attack, which could potentially have two strikers and a right winger looming in our box. Situations like this will leak goals and see us struggle to keep clean sheets next season. Hopefully that has explained the recurring problem with Antonio playing as our right sided full back. If you’d like some visual aid, then watching back clips from our league game vs Arsenal at the Boleyn would be best help. For the first two goals Michail was horribly out of position and it cost us dearly. Fortunately Big Andy came to the rescue, but in theory, we could have won the game 3-1 had Antonio not been played out of position.
If I was Bilic (I wish I was), this is probably how I’d go about rectifying the problem: First I’d make a direct swap. Antonio out, Byram in. That’s not to say Antonio couldn’t get into the team elsewhere because he’s an excellent, hard working player but for now we’re focusing on the defence. I’d continue with Reid and Ogbonna at the back. I think that they’re both solid defenders, and with time their partnership will develop and I can see it being a mainstay at the heart of our defence for years to come. Finally, due to Cresswell’s injury we’re going to need an at least decent, short term replacement. Kieron Gibbs has been thrown about a lot and I think on loan he’d be an adequate replacement. Although I believe we could also be looking at perhaps Tyrone Mings of Bournemouth. He’s 6’5, powerful and with Bournemouth’s recent acquisition of Brad Smith he could be out of their first team picture. With Byram in at right back, Reid and Ogbonna making up the centre halves and Mings in at left back I think we’d have a capable defensive unit. That back line could be one that would work up until Cresswell’s return, and in my opinion, would resolve our current defensive woes.
That about wraps up my first post. I hope it’s been an entertaining read, and has shed light on not only the problem West Ham face with their full backs, but also an answer to it. Thank you for reading and I hope you stick around to read my next one.