West Ham United centre-back Issa Diop delivered a defensive masterclass to emerge as David Moyes’ true unsung hero of Sunday’s 2-1 win over London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
The Frenchman earned his first successive Premier League start since September for the visit of Jose Mourinho’s Spurs to the London Stadium, having returned from the cold to replace Angelo Ogbonna against Sheffield United on Monday night.
Diop had only featured for 117 minutes of top-flight action over the past five months after losing his place in the side following the return of a positive test for coronavirus, and saw his Irons future thrown into doubt in January amid links with a possible move to Liverpool.
Is Diop getting back to his best for West Ham?
Yes, he’s playing brilliantly
No, he’s got a long way to go
Moyes kept Diop in his starting line-up against Tottenham as West Ham continued to be without Ogbonna, with the Italian sidelined after sustaining a high ankle sprain in his side’s FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Manchester United earlier this month.
Diop had big shoes to fill by replacing Ogbonna, who had started all 23 available Premier League games this season, but the £18m-rated titan more than lived up to the challenge against Spurs and the threat posed by the top-flight’s third-top-scorer Harry Kane.
Yet Craig Dawson, Declan Rice and Jesse Lingard earned the best match ratings for a West Ham player on Sunday from football.london, who awarded each of the trio an eight out of 10, while Diop was given a seven alongside six of his teammates who started.
Rice’s pivotal clearance in the 77th-minute played a key role in the England international securing his grade, having miraculously made up the ground and turned the ball away without inadvertently scoring an own goal.
Meanwhile, Diop was praised for producing a ‘fine performance’, to leave the 24-year-old the unsung hero having provided a key role – often superior to Dawson’s – in keeping West Ham’s lead intact.
Diop made five clearances altogether against Tottenham, above his average 3.0 per game this season, along with recording two successful tackles and one interception – both also above his average 1.3 and 0.7 respectively, per SofaScore.
He also blocked two shots, more than any of his teammates, with Aaron Cresswell (one) the only other Irons player to stop a shot from testing Lukasz Fabianski or leaving the Poland goalkeeper with a decision to make.
While Dawson only completed 65% of his 17 passes, Diop additionally found teammates with 86% of his 14 attempted balls, no Hammers player completed a higher percentage, with Rice second with 83%.
The £67k-per-week Frenchman further picked out a claret and blue shirt with two of three long passes, while the Watford loanee – his defensive partner – misplaced all four of his attempts.
Not even Ogbonna has boasted such a strong pass success rate (80%) this season or completed as many long balls per game (1.9, 37%), while also offering fewer clearances (4.7), successful tackles (0.9) and the same number of interceptions (1.0) on average.
Therefore, it’s clear that Diop outperformed his fellow central defender on the afternoon, helping keep Kane and co largely silent.
Moyes will have been delighted with Diop’s defensive showing to help West Ham stay ahead and claim a 2-1 win over their London rivals while pulling nine points clear of Spurs and into the top-four.