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 — picking up a steward’s seat before sitting and pondering what he had just done — might just live as long in the memory as the goal itself.

The strike was a reminder of his talent, the confidence he has in possession and why the 23-year-old is a throwback winger who loves to dribble past defenders. Kudus scored the fourth and fifth goal of West Ham United’s 5-0 thrashing of Freiburg. Having suffered a 1-0 loss in the first leg to the German side, in the second leg West Ham were confident, free-scoring and driven. They have now reached the quarter-final of a European competition for a third season running.

Kudus started the solo run in his own half, he surged past one Freiburg player, then another, then skipped past defender Lukas Kubler to score a goal-of-the-season contender. When he used the steward’s seat, his team-mates rushed towards 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 manager David Moyes. “It was a brilliant individual goal, a Roy of the Rovers-type of goal.”

Kudus West Ham celebration 1 scaled

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

Since joining from Ajax for €41.5million (£35.6m) last summer, Kudus has scored 11 goals and registered four assists across 33 appearances. The Ghana international has a penchant for strikes from outside the box and his second goal against Freiburg was no different. There have been assists in victories against Brentford and Everton, but these were Kudus’ first goals since returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty with Ghana in February. Big players deliver in big moments and this was one of Kudus’ best performances this season.

He also impressed defensively against the German side, regularly retrieving possession and tracking back to repel their threat on goal. The Athletic previously highlighted the role Tim Steidten, the technical director, played in convincing Kudus to turn down Chelsea in favour of West Ham. The forward has since formed a close bond with the manager and academy prospect Joseph Anang.

“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, equalling his previous best tally for West Ham, achieved in 2021-22. Konstantinos Mavropanos and Zouma continued their promising defensive partnership. Aaron Cresswell, who deputised for the injured Emerson Palmieri, scored his first goal since April 2022.

Forward Michail Antonio made his second start since returning from a knee injury. As with Lucas Paqueta, 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 the striker received a standing ovation when he was brought off for Ben Johnson and his performance vindicated Moyes’ decision to play an attack-minded 4-2-3-1 against Freiburg, with the quartet of Antonio, Kudus, Bowen and Paqueta starting for the first time this season.

“I put out on Twitter last week saying it’s far from over,” said Antonio. “I said the same thing last year 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.”

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 fight back in a two-legged tie. Antonio and Coufal spoke afterwards about the belief in the squad and their aspirations of winning the competition. With Kudus, Bowen, Antonio and Paqueta on form, they could go all the way.

(Top photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

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