West Ham United opened their Europa League account with a bang as they won comfortably at Dinamo Zagreb to go top of the Group H table.
David Moyes’ side ran out 2-0 victors thanks to Michail Antonio’s fifth goal of the season, latching onto a defensive error in the 21st minute before Declan Rice netted a sublime solo goal five minutes into the second half.
Both players were obvious candidates for the ‘Man of the Match’ award, particularly the former, who ran the Croatian’s rugged with his tireless work rate.
He enjoyed two successful dribbles, won 100% of his ground duels and created three key chances. However, there was another, and perhaps more surprising name, who arguably stole the show.
Issa Diop was handed a rare start in defence alongside summer signing Kurt Zouma and he made the most of the opportunity.
As per SofaScore, the young French centre-back proved to be rather effective and industrious in the heart of the backline, where he recorded a squad and match-high of three interceptions.
This was also complemented by two tackles, one clearance and one block, combining an impressive ability to read the threat of the Croatian champions and displaying his physical attributes – something that once made former Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho laud him as a “monster” for in 2018.
Diop, who is valued at £18m by CIES Football Observatory, even won 100% of his aerial battles, further reinforcing his imposing 6 foot 4 stature, whilst a passing accuracy of 85% suggests he did his job in playing out from the back, too.
Considering it was his first appearance of the 2021/22 campaign, the 24-year-old may have just given Moyes plenty to think about as he certainly shone in defence on Thursday night.
He struggled for minutes on the pitch last season, managing only 15 starts in the Premier League but after that display, he could well be in line for a permanent recall.
Forget the free-scoring Antonio, Diop deserves plenty of credit for his performance on the night.