Versatile Antonio wins Pellegrini praise

Michail Antonio and Declan Rice


Manuel Pellegrini has praised Michail Antonio for his positive approach to playing at right-back.

Antonio returned to the starting XI in Tuesday’s Premier League win over Cardiff City at London Stadium and impressed with his pace, power and work-rate in a role he had not played since doing so at Brighton & Hove Albion in February.

The No30 not only all but nullified Cardiff winger Junior Hoilett, but also weighed in with his first Premier League goal of the season with a trademark near post header, impressing his manager with his versatility and commitment to the cause.

Highlights: West Ham United 3-1 Cardiff City

“I was happy with his performance,” said Pellegrini. “Antonio played in that position before. He is a player who is not a defender but he can play in defence because he is very good in one v one [situations].

“It is very difficult to beat him in individual duels. It’s important for him to play in that position because he is a good header [of the ball] so he can defend well, he has a lot of speed so he can go into attack.

“Maybe it is not the position he wants to play or likes to play but he can do it and he did it happy and without any problems.”


Michail Antonio scored against Cardiff City in midweek


With Pablo Zabaleta being rested and Ryan Fredericks out injured, Antonio was Pellegrini’s only realistic option to play at right-back against the Bluebirds, and his performance means the manager will not need to dip into his transfer kitty in January to purchase another player in that position.

The Chilean went on to say that he believes Antonio could actually carry a bigger goal threat playing at full-back than in a more advanced starting position, before confirming Zabaleta is in contention to regain his place in the team when Crystal Palace visit London Stadium on Saturday.

“For the moment, with Fredericks’ injury, I hope he will be ready in the middle of January and we have the option to replace Pablo with Antonio or start with Antonio," he observed.

“The important thing is that the player wants to do it because he likes to play. For him, I just told him, he scored his goal playing as a defender. He has a lot of chances to score before as a striker. So maybe as an arriver in the second line, he will be more dangerous.

“Pablo is ready to start so we will decide the starting XI on Friday.”