David Moyes must wield the axe on Issa Diop and bench the French defender for Craig Dawson when West Ham United visit Chelsea on Monday night.
The Hammers won on their last trip to Stamford Bridge but have found results hard to secure in south west London in recent years, with last season’s victory snapping a run of 14 winless visits.
Chelsea will be expected to put up a firm defence of their record when the two sides meet to round off the pre-Christmas fixtures, as Frank Lampard’s men strive to avoid a third-straight Premier League defeat that has seen the Blues fall outside of the guaranteed European positions and sit just a point above the Hammers.
Moyes fielding Diop at Stamford Bridge would threaten West Ham’s chances of taking a result on Monday night, after the 23-year-old struggled on his return to the starting line-up in place of the injured Fabian Balbuena at home to Crystal Palace.
It was the first time since September that Diop opened a top-flight fixture having lost his place in the side after testing positive for coronavirus, and showed clear signs of rustiness as Christian Benteke had his way before being shown a second yellow card.
Chelsea forwards Olivier Giroud, Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic would be licking their lips at the prospect of attacking Diop, should he produce a similar affair, with their pace and knack for attacking the box enough to leave the Frenchman in a spin.
Moyes can ill-afford to see a key piece of his plans be targeted in such a way, and must unleash Watford loanee Dawson for his West Ham debut to bring a sense of leadership into the line should Balbuena not be passed fit with further checks needed.
Dawson has been named among the substitutes for the Irons’ last two top-fight fixtures after being overlooked in the opening months of his time in claret and blue, but is yet to step foot onto the field since penning a one-year loan deal that features a £2million option to buy.
Moyes favoured Dawson on the bench over Diop against Leeds United last week before Balbuena’s injury, as he sought to offer the Watford man his first experience of being in a West Ham matchday squad.
“Dawson’s more vocal than Diop,” ExWHUemployee explained on the West Ham Way Podcast. “[Moyes] thought, if he needed a centre-back to come on, he could have put [Ben] Johnson on and put [Aaron] Cresswell at centre-back.
“He obviously had [Declan] Rice that could play there as well. So he only wanted either Dawson or Diop and he went to give Dawson a bit of experience of the first-team.”
Moyes must now go one step further and bench Diop to field Dawson, who helped Watford keep four clean sheets in his 29 Premier League appearances last season thanks to 3.8 clearances, 1.2 interceptions, 1.0 successful tackle and 5.0 duels won, while being dribbled past just 0.5 times a game, per SofaScore.