Issa Diop was David Moyes true hero as West Ham beat Sheffield United 3-0 on Monday night.
The French centre-half returned to the Hammers’ starting line-up of a Premier League game for the first time since December for the visit of Chris Wilder’s relegation-threatened Blades.
Moyes was without his regular first-choice Angelo Ogbonna after the Italian sustained a high ankle sprain during last Tuesday’s FA Cup defeat at Manchester United.
Diop had sparked concerns of a concussion at Old Trafford following a clash of heads with Anthony Martial, but was passed fit to face Sheffield United after showing no signs of an injury.
West Ham would have been delighted to have had Diop in the side on Monday night as the 24-year-old produced an assured display on his return to action, in what was only his fourth top-flight start of the season.
The £18m-rated titan, linked with a Deadline Day move to Liverpool earlier in the month, also headed home the Hammers’ second of the night with an excellent connection to Aaron Cresswell’s free-kick inside quarter of an hour of the second half.
Declan Rice had opened the scoring with a perfectly placed penalty minutes before the break, and showed great leadership to drive the Irons forward with a dominant display in the engine room.
The England international is very much coming into his own in the captain role with Mark Noble often taking a seat on the bench, in what could be Mr West Ham’s final year at the London Stadium.
And yet it was Diop, not Rice, who was Moyes’ true hero against Sheffield United, having stepped in to replace Ogbonna – who the Hammers boss describes as “magnificent” and a “really important” player – and he rarely put a foot wrong.
Diop listened to every bit of advice Craig Dawson and the bench passed over to appear as if he has been playing regularly this season, despite the Blades’ visit to the London Stadium being only his second outing beside the Watford loanee after 30 minutes at Manchester United.
Other than half an hour at Old Trafford, Wilder’s side also represented the first top-flight opponent that Diop has faced since December 16, having been an unused substitute in West Ham’s previous 10 Premier League games.
Yet the £67,000-per-week titan outshone Dawson and Aaron Cresswell in Moyes’ back three, with Diop offering a joint team-high two successful tackles with Ben Johnson but with a 100% success rate, per WhoScored, with Sheffield United also unable to dribble past the Frenchman.
Diop further offered a joint game-high four clearances with Vladimir Coufal and the Blades’ John Egan, to match Ogbonna’s average of 4.4 a game this term.
Moyes further saw Diop win 71% of his duels with success in four of six ground contests and one from one in the air, while Dawson and Cresswell each won just one ground duel from three and two respective contests, per SofaScore.
Diop’s efforts should more than ensure he retains his place in the West Ham backline over Fabian Balbuena for when the Irons host London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, having filled the Ogbonna void more than adequately.
AND in other news, West Ham may rue not signing a £1.8k-p/w target in January as he nears a pre-contract agreement…