David Moyes must axe Issa Diop from the West Ham United starting line-up after the French centre-half struggled on his return to action against Crystal Palace.
Diop had not opened a Premier League fixture since testing positive for coronavirus in September, with the form of Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell locking the £22million Mario Husillos signing out of the side.
But Balbuena was unable to face Roy Hodgson’s Eagles after sustaining a small groin injury and it being deemed not worth the risk of fielding the Paraguayan, who now faces an undetermined spell on the sidelines.
Moyes had only awarded Diop 27 minutes of top-flight action since September’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal, coming on as a late substitute for Ogbonna against Fulham when the Italian sustained a groin issue after contact with Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Ogbonna was able to make an immediate return thanks to the November international break, seeing Diop – who has earned £8.7m since joining West Ham on a £67,000-per-week contract – miss out once more.
But even if Balbuena is not passed fit to face Chelsea on Monday, Diop should not be so lucky as to start after his dismal display at the London Stadium.
Diop showed worrying signs of rustiness from the off in his efforts to contain Christian Benteke on Wednesday night, who broke away easily and was given acres of space to head home Crystal Palace’s only goal of the game.
Benteke continued to offer an offensive threat for the visitors before being shown what Hodgson believed to be a “ludicrous” red card, after picking up a second yellow for an elbow on Tomas Soucek after a similar incident with Ogbonna.
The Belgian striker glanced two headers just wide of Lukasz Fabianski’s goal and could have done better with a sliced effort when found in the box by Andros Townsend, having been a relentless issue for Diop to contain.
Diop, who Alan Hutton feels has “got a lot of improving left to go”, will likely struggle to shake off the cobwebs against Chelsea if kept in the line-up for Monday’s trip to Stamford Bridge, where Frank Lampard’s side are unbeaten since the opening day of the season and have scored 14 times in the five Premier League fixtures held since.