Who, would you say, is the better striker? Michail Antonio or Sebastien Haller?
When you consider that one has scored just a single Premier League goal since the turn of the year, while the other has 33 in his last 41 games in all competitions – including a remarkable 11 in just eight Champions League matches – surely only the most hard-nosed, rose-tinted West Ham United supporters would suggest that Antonio is objectively a superior footballer to a man who has fired Ajax to within one win of another Eredivisie title.
But while Antonio cannot hold a candle to Haller in terms of pure, unfiltered talent, that does not mean the enigmatic Frenchman was a better fit for West Ham than David Moyes’ right-back-turned-targetman.
Being better is one thing. Being a better fit is another.
“I was brought in by Manuel Pellegrini but then David Moyes came and we got in a situation where we were, like, trapped together,” Haller tells The Guardian, explaining why that ill-fated 18 months at West Ham remains an outlier on his otherwise outstanding CV.
“I was playing in a system that I didn’t really enjoy. Moyes preferred someone like Antonio up front.”
West Ham want Ollie Watkins from Aston Villa
Antonio might not be the most naturally gifted centre-forward in the Premier League but you’d struggle to find a man better suited a number nine role under Moyes at the London Stadium. Well, apart from Ollie Watkins that is.
“There was nobody better to lead the line with 10 men than Ollie Watkins,” former Aston Villa boss Dean Smith said after the England international inspired a 3-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace in December 2020, despite Tyrone Mings’ 45th minute dismissal (Independent).
“I thought he was outstanding. All the lads are very appreciative of the work he’s doing.”
The similarities between Watkins and Antonio are obvious. Not least because, like West Ham’s number nine, he’s been transformed from a tricky winger into a one-man wrecking ball of a centre-forward.
“I normally call him the beast,” Thomas Frank, who first gave Watkins his chance in a more central role at Brentford, told Sky Sports.
“He’s one of the hardest, if not the hardest working offensive players in the league, and he’s also the top scorer. That’s not a bad combination.”
Michail Antonio 2.0?
Therein lies the clue as to why, according to The Guardian, West Ham have identified Watkins as a ‘key summer target’, despite an eye-watering £50 million price-tag.
If Antonio is a centre-forward tailor-made for Moyes, then so too is Watkins. Both are blessed with a relentless work ethic, searing pace, tactical flexibility and an ability to drag the rest of their team-mates up the pitch with their high-pressing style and excellent link-play.
What Watkins brings to the table, however, is a real nose for goal. He’s scored five more than Antonio in the last two seasons, despite leading the line for an inferior side.
It may be a tad over-simplistic to describe Watkins as something of an ‘Antonio 2.0’. But, if Sebastien Haller was a square peg in a round hole, then Watkins is precisely the opposite.