Mohammed Kudus’ magic moment was a sign of West Ham’s exciting attacking potential

It says a lot about Mohammed Kudus that he even thought about scoring when collecting the ball deep in his own half, with five Freiburg defenders blocking his route to goal.

The celebration that followed after he did it — picking up a pitchside steward’s plastic stool before sitting on it and pondering what he had just done, surrounded by delighted team-mates — might just live as long in the memory as the move itself.

The goal was a reminder of his talent, the confidence he has in possession, and that the 23-year-old Ghanaian is a throwback winger who loves to dribble past defenders. Kudus scored the magnificent fourth and then the final goal of West Ham United’s 5-0 second-leg thrashing of Freiburg.

Having suffered a 1-0 loss away to the German side in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie a week earlier, West Ham were confident, free-scoring and driven in last night’s decider. They have now reached the quarter-finals of a European competition for three seasons in a row.

Kudus started the solo run for that 77th-minute fourth as close to his penalty area as to the centre circle. He surged past one Freiburg player, then another, then finally skipped past defender Lukas Kubler to score a goal-of-the-season contender. When he took a seat on that steward’s stool, his team-mates rushed to join him, with captain Kurt Zouma and Vladimir Coufal polishing his boots.

“If anybody can remember dribbling wingers who used to run and take people on, with snaky hips, that was a little bit of that tonight,” said their manager David Moyes. “It was a brilliant individual goal — a Roy of the Rovers-type of goal.”

West Ham are aiming to win a European trophy for a second consecutive year (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Since joining from Dutch club Ajax for €41.5million (£35.5m/$45.2m at the current exchange rate) last summer, Kudus has 11 goals and four assists in 33 appearances. The Ghana international has a penchant for strikes from outside the box, and his second goal last night was no different.

There have been assists in Premier League wins against Brentford and Everton, but these were Kudus’ first goals since returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty in early February. Big players deliver in big moments, and this was one of his best performances in a West Ham shirt.

He also impressed defensively, regularly retrieving possession and tracking back to repel Freiburg’s threat on goal. The Athletic previously highlighted the role Tim Steidten, the technical director, played in convincing Kudus to turn down fellow London side Chelsea in favour of West Ham. The forward has since formed close bonds with Moyes and backup goalkeeper Joseph Anang, who was born in Ghana.

“It’s good (my relationship with Moyes),” said Kudus. “I’m still trying to learn every day to be the player I see myself being. I have learned a lot from the coaching staff and the players as well. Credit to the team and the coaches here for the fast start I made, as they helped me settle very well and improve every day. We are still learning and there’s still a long way to go.”

Besides Kudus’ individual brilliance, Jarrod Bowen scored his 18th goal of the season to make it 2-0 on the night, equalling his previous best tally for West Ham — achieved in 2021-22, Zouma and Konstantinos Mavropanos continued their promising defensive partnership and Aaron Cresswell, deputising for the injured Emerson Palmieri, scored his first goal since April 2022, West Ham’s third.

Up front, Michail Antonio made his second start since returning last month from a November knee injury.

As with Lucas Paqueta in midfield, Antonio can be key in helping to get the best out of Kudus and Bowen. With Antonio playing as a lone striker, Bowen could play in his preferred position on the right. It is no surprise Antonio received a standing ovation when he was brought off for Ben Johnson on 79 minutes and his performance vindicated Moyes’ decision to play an attack-minded 4-2-3-1, with the quartet of Antonio, Kudus, Bowen and Paqueta starting together for the first time all season.

“I put out on Twitter last week saying it’s (the tie) far from over,” said Antonio. “I said the same thing last year (when West Ham won the third-tier Europa Conference League), and we managed to turn it around this year. One thing with us in Europe, we definitely know how to play, we definitely know how to go far. So hopefully we can do what we did last year. You can see the quality Mo has, especially with the first goal he scored. The boy is special and hopefully we can keep on.

“Jarrod can cut in, whip it in with his left foot. Mo plays on the left, plays on the right, has got the power to run through players. Lucas has got the skills and the pass to put anyone through. With all that it is magic, and hopefully it can keep working for us.”

As Antonio says, this was the latest in a series of West Ham comebacks in Europe, with Sevilla and Lyon also able to attest to their ability to rally in a two-legged tie. Antonio and Coufal spoke afterwards about the belief in the squad and their aspirations of winning this competition, too.

With Kudus, Bowen, Antonio and Paqueta all on top form, they could go all the way.

(Top photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

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