David Moyes is set to be in dreamland once the West Ham United boss recalls Issa Diop to the starting line-up following vivid praise for Fabian Balbuena from Irons icon Frank McAvennie.
What’s the word?
Moyes has been unable to call on Diop in recent weeks after he and the French centre-half both returned positive tests for coronavirus, which sidelined the 23-year-old in mid-September and forced him to miss Premier League meetings with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City.
Diop returned to the West Ham bench last time out against Tottenham Hotspur but did not feature in the dramatic 3-3 draw in north London, and is expected to once again miss out on a starting role in the Hammers’ clash with Manchester City this Saturday.
It is predicted that Moyes will name an unchanged XI from the side which drew at Spurs, with Balbuena joined by Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell at the back and summer signing Said Benrahma only featuring on the bench.
Moyes can take great confidence in his recently-utilised defence following their latest form, and McAvennie believes Balbuena is finally starting to display his potential thanks to the Scottish coach’s tactics and training.
“I have always liked him,” McAvennie told Football Insider. “I have known about him for a while and I knew how well the boy could play. On the top of his game, he is probably one of our best defenders.
“The fans are seeing it now and that is because he is getting worked on. David Moyes was a centre-half so there is no doubt in my mind that he is working with the defenders. They are getting worked every day in training.
“It is good and then benefits are there for all to see.”
But the benefits from Balbuena’s form will only continue on an upward trajectory once Diop has returned to the starting line-up, with the Paraguayan enjoying his best defensive partnership in east London with the Frenchman.
Moyes’ dream backline
Since Diop and Balbuena moved to the London Stadium in 2018, the pair have tackled 29 Premier League fixtures together in which West Ham have taken 13 wins, five draws and lost on 11 occasions.
Their win rate of 44.8% is vastly superior to the 34.7% that Diop shares with Ogbonna and eclipses the 42.8% that Balbuena and Ogbonna share – something Moyes will surely love to tap into once he feels ready to alter the names in his defence.
Balbuena is also currently recording the highest number of successful tackles per 90 minutes by one of West Ham’s defenders in the Premier League (2.0), along with their most interceptions (2.7), passes blocked (1.7) and accurate long balls (3.3), while Diop ranks first for shots blocked (1.5) and accurate short passes (42), per WhoScored.
The combination of Balbuena and Diop amid their form this season could prove to be a master plan for Moyes, who would be left in dreamland should the 23-year-old Frenchman also return to a level that saw West Ham demand £60million amid interest from Manchester United, FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain in 2019.
Current Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho has also previously sung the praises of what Diop can offer, having lauded the defender for dominating Paul Pogba in a 3-1 defeat to the Irons during his tenure at Manchester United.
“[Diop had a] fantastic match,” Mourinho told BT Sport, via quotes by the Evening Standard. “Congratulations to the scout that found a 21-year-old kid Diop – a monster who dominated in the duels.”
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