West Ham’s dream lies with Antonio: Neil Humphreys
Moyes' side, who are eyeing a Champions League spot, will need him to stay fit if they are to make history
It's all going wrong at West Ham United. Dreams are supposed to fade and die, but the bubbles are still blowing.
Hope lingers around the London Stadium like the smell of yesterday's fish and chips. The air is a giddy mix of joy and confusion.
The Hammers are not supposed to beat teams like Liverpool, move up to third in the English Premier League, top their Europa League group and look forward to a quarter-final date in the League Cup.
Farcical football is the West Ham way. Banana skins and bad goals conceded are expected, not this organised and efficient aberration under David Moyes. And yet, bizarrely, there's no reason for the optimism to end any time soon either.
The Hammers' ascent depends, in large part, on one man; not the euphoric, fist-pumping manager formerly known as a dour Scotsman, but the euphoric, fist-pumping Michail Antonio.
The affable Londoner needed just three minutes against Liverpool to demonstrate his value in Moyes' line-up. While the debate focused on the legitimacy of West Ham's opener - after Alisson flapped at a corner like a fish in a puddle - Antonio's contribution was overlooked.
He'd won the corner in the first place.
More importantly, the move encapsulated West Ham's reinvention.
Their deep-block defence often involved nine outfield players. The task was simple. Repel Liverpool's seven-man attack, indefinitely. But Moyes never parked the bus. He unleashed his battering ram instead.
After three minutes, Antonio pulled away from Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip. His cross went out for a corner and the rest was Alisson's unwanted history.
There was another essential contribution before West Ham's second goal. Antonio dragged defenders wide, carving out a route for Jarrod Bowen to release Pablo Fornals.
But the Hammers' direct approach doesn't conform to cliche, with long balls being launched towards a big target man. Moyes favours calculated, surging counter-attacks, exploiting space behind marauding wing-backs.
An emphasis on a well-drilled defence and a heavy reliance on set-pieces are classic Moyes traits from his time at Everton - and the set-pieces were low-hanging fruit with Alisson - but there's nothing primitive about the sudden change of tack.
Against Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Everton recently, West Ham counter-attacked superbly, moving swiftly through Declan Rice in midfield or via Antonio in attack.
A nomadic career, which involved many clubs and positions, created a versatile, willing footballer, difficult to categorise and tough to mark.
Antonio holds up play, but also releases teammates quickly. He boasts the bulk of a rugby prop and the pace of a winger. He's comfortable across the front line and appears to be one of the few strikers happy to plough those lonely furrows for long periods.
He is, in essence, a manager's dream. He's also the only Hammer without a reliable replacement.
Rice, Fornals and the rapidly improving Bowen continue to impose their authority on West Ham's attacking raids, but they all have back-ups, of varying degrees, on the bench.
Antonio does not.
In pre-season, the Hammers were linked with several strikers and typically signed none of them. The finances were not forthcoming. Perhaps that'll change in January, with a prospective buyer watching them beat Liverpool at the London Stadium.
In the meantime, there's no obvious deputy for a 31-year-old who has led the line in three competitions, without complaint and without serious injury, so far at least.
Antonio's six league goals rank him third in the EPL scorers' chart, but are arguably less important than his 17-goal involvement in the last 22 Premier League games at the London Stadium.
His consistency, rather like Moyes' Hammers generally, has been extraordinary. The two are made for each other.
It's hard to tell if such form can be maintained long enough to secure qualification for the Champions League for the first time. This is uncharted territory for West Ham.
But only Antonio can lead the way.