Issa Diop has been gifted his best chance to regain a starting role at West Ham United since recovering from coronavirus, with defensive teammate Angelo Ogbonna facing an undetermined spell out with a groin injury.
Ogbonna was forced off after 63-minutes during last Saturday’s London derby victory over rivals Fulham, when the Italian centre-half collided with Aleksandar Mitrovic and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
The blow immediately forced Ogbonna off and he underwent scans on Monday to determine the extent of the injury, which boss David Moyes admitted after the game had raised concerns having called on the 31-year-old to start all eight Premier League fixtures to date.
“We’re a little bit worried about Angelo because it was a challenge in the box where I don’t think the player should have made the challenge on the goalkeeper and it has opened his groin up a bit,” Moyes said, via quotes by football.london.
It is yet to be determined how long Ogbonna will miss, having been forced to withdraw from Italy’s squad for the November internationals following his first competitive call up since earning his 13th cap back in 2016.
Ogbonna has been an ever-present of the Hammers backline this term alongside Aaron Cresswell, while Fabian Balbuena has formed a part of Moyes’ defence in six Premier League fixtures.
Diop came off the bench to replace Ogbonna at home to Fulham on Saturday, marking his first top-flight appearance since September’s 2-1 loss at Arsenal, having tested positive for coronavirus alongside Moyes and Josh Cullen following the north London affair.
Diop has struggled to re-establish his position given West Ham’s fine form in his absence, featuring a 4-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, a 3-0 win at Leicester, a 1-1 draw with Manchester City and a 2-1 loss at Liverpool, where the London Stadium natives allowed just five shots on target – only Man City have allowed less (3) against the Reds in the champions’ last five top-flight fixtures.
But Ogbonna’s groin injury offers Diop a chance to capitalise and show Moyes why he was favoured so highly by Manuel Pellegrini, having started 47 of a possible 55 Premier League games under the Chilean who demanded a £60million fee for the Frenchman amid interest from Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona last year.
Pellegrini was often full of praise for Diop, noting upon the defender’s then-club-record £21.9m arrival from Toulouse in 2018, via quotes by Sky Sports: “Issa is a defender with great talent and character. He is only 21, but he has already established himself as a key player over a period of time with Toulouse.
“We believe he has defensive qualities that will be well suited to the Premier League – pace, power and a sharp concentration – and I also feel he will complement the other central defenders we have.”
Diop currently boasts the lowest per 90 minute record at West Ham among the Irons’ defenders for tackles (0.87) and aerial duels won (0.87), but ranks above Ogbonna (0.78) and Cresswell (1.0) for interceptions (1.3) and is first for blocked shots (1.3) and accurate passes (48.7), per SofaScore.
Moyes will need to see Diop improve his record for tackles and aerial duel success should Ogbonna miss any considerable time out injured, but the Italian’s blow could well be to the Frenchman’s gain.