In pictures: Young Boys v Manchester United
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Normally, the absence of the opposition’s key striker and leading goal-scorer is brilliant news. However, Manchester United have missed out on the perfect opportunity to audition Michail Antonio, with the West Ham striker missing the contest through suspension.
The Jamaica international was given a straight red card for a clumsy challenge on Moussa Djenepo, in the Hammers’ 0-0 draw against Southampton.
With four goals and three assists in West Ham’s opening four matches, the 30-year-old is currently leading the Premier League golden boot race.
He also scored his first goal in European competition for David Moyes’ side; rounding the keeper and tapping into an empty net to open the scoring in their 2-0 away victory against Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League.
His finishing and efficiency have come on leaps and bounds this season – he is a player United should be monitoring.
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He may also be a player United will need, as former Red Devils’ striker Dimitar Berbatov recently claimed United striker Edison Cavani would be unhappy at having to warm the bench at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo is now United’s undisputed leader of the line having returned to the Reds in a sensational £20m move from Juventus this summer.
The Portuguese has already scored three goals in his first two matches.
His return means Cavani and Anthony Martial will have to content themselves with fleeting appearances from the bench.
Cavani’s contract expires next summer, while Martial looked certain to leave Old Trafford this summer having been linked with the likes of Everton and Inter Milan.
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However, Antonio would bring something else to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
As demonstrated in United’s thumping 4-1 victory against Newcastle United, their game is built around pace and playing through the lines.
Unfortunately for the Reds, they can be restricted and countered by teams sitting deep and restricting all spaces in behind.
Antonio has the pace to play on the counter-attack, as well as the awareness and hold up skills to link up with his team mates.
He also has the close control and the vision to open up defences while he has his back to goal.
Only United and City have scored more goals than West Ham this season, and Antonio is a big reason why the Hammers have been so deadly.
As well as his finishing, his movement inside the box has also been revolutionised under Moyes’ coaching.
He has always been strong in the air, however, he has now become a top quality poacher in the penalty area, bamboozling defenders with his quick movements before getting across his marker.
There were times last season, Solskjaer’s side struggled to break down stubborn and compact defences.
If Cavani was to leave Old Trafford at the end of his contract, United would not have a traditional number nine within their ranks who can offer something different to the likes of Ronaldo, Mason Greenwood, and Marcus Rashford. Antonio would be the perfect plan B for United.
He would ask different questions to United’s other options and his mere presence would be a huge bother to the opposition.
Moreover, he enter the final year of his contract at the Hammers next summer. At 30-years-old, it would likely be his last opportunity to play for a club in the Champions League.
With his deal expiring in 2023, next summer would be West Ham’s final chance to sell him for a hefty fee. United aspire to compete on all fronts, but to do so a side needs to have a squad deep in options, quality, and different attributes.
Very few players bring more quality to a side than Antonio.
While United will not be facing him in the capital, they should absolutely monitor his performances for the Hammers this season.
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