London derbies are often among the most meaningful games in a Premier League season for those clubs in and around the capital, with fans and players alike keen to win bragging rights over their neighbours – until next time at least.
West Ham’s October clash with Spurs was no exception and Andriy Yarmolenko, the Hammers’ summer signing, felt the physical demands as he was stretchered off with a nasty looking ankle injury which was later revealed to be an Achilles tear – an injury that will keep him out for the foreseeable future.
However, one player’s plight is another’s opportunity and Grady Diangana not only slotted in well in the Ukrainian’s stead initially, but has looked like twice the player in recent weeks.
The Congo-born winger joined the West Ham youth setup in 2010 as a 12-year-old with ambitions to lead the Hammers’ line in years to come but was slowly eased out wide as he entered the Under-15s.
Previously impressing with the Under-23s, the academy graduate made his debut appearance for the first team in an 8-0 Carabao Cup thrashing of League Two outfit Macclesfield Town and grabbed the game by the horns as he scored a brace.
Pellegrini kept faith in the prospect as weeks went by and it was the 90 minutes against Burnley that inspired this article.
The lightning-quick attacker had a bright start to the game, teasing Steven Defour on the edge of the box before being tripped as he drove inside. To the bemusement of most in attendance, the referee saw no foul and play was allowed to continue.
Not disheartened however, the fleet-footed midfielder kept at it, continuing to make a mockery of the Clarets defence as he created chances for Robert Snodgrass and Felipe Anderson, the latter of whom scored coolly.
Unfortunately, the assister would not have the satisfaction of seeing his through ball converted as he was wiped out by a clumsy James Tarkowski. Speaking to West Ham’s official website, a smiling Diangana admitted “for two seconds I didn’t know where I was (after being taken out by Tarkowski) and then I heard the crowd scream and realised it was a goal”.
Not content with his impact on the game so far, Diangana gave Charlie Taylor and Robbie Brady no respite as he searched for a goal and prompted whistles from the home fans as he bamboozled the latter with a turn that left many wondering how he had squeezed away.
In a high-scoring game in which the hosts ran out 4-2 winners, the 20-year-old played with a swagger and confidence that was beyond his years. If he can keep up this calibre of performance then Michail Antonio will not get a sniff in the starting XI.
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The number 45 is much less wasteful in possession in comparison to Antonio and has the eye for a pass that the former Nottingham Forest man lacks, as well as being more successful in his attempts to carry the ball – the former completes 2.5 dribbles a game to the latter’s 1.1 (WhoScored).
Antonio is often criticised for running into blind alleys and failing to keep hold of or distribute the ball effectively, but Diangana’s 1.5 key passes per game and passing success average of 78.9% shows that he knows when to let go of the ball to create a chance for his teammates.
The youngster is not yet the finished article though and he perhaps lacks the confidence to have a pop at goal now and then. There were also times during the Burnley game when he should use his skill and pace to beat a man but was all too easily barged off of the ball; admittedly Sean Dyche’s side are one of the most physical in the league, but if Diangana can bulk up a bit then he can become a real handful.
In a season where West Ham have spent just shy of £100m to overhaul their squad, all eyes have been on big name signings made in the summer. However, in academy graduates Declan Rice and Diangana, there is proof that heavy investment in the transfer market isn’t always the way forward as both have come into starting places and made them their own.
What sets the winger apart from the rest is that he refused to play safe or within his limits for fear of failure; going at the opposition from the first whistle to the last, he gave fans little time sat in their seats. Currently impressing in his rawest form, if he can continue to get chances in the first team the sky is the limit.