Opinion: With Kurt Zouma out, West Ham's £22m man simply has to be the man to replace him at the back
West Ham have confirmed that Kurt Zouma will miss the Hammers vital Europa League clash with Lyon after suffering an ankle injury against Brentford on Sunday.
Zouma has been a mainstay in West Ham’s backline this season but he could be out for a while with West Ham confirming that he will need further examination before they can confirm a return date for the Frenchman.
It seems deputy duty will fall upon the shoulders of Issa Diop with Angelo Ogbonna still sidelined.
Diop has struggled for a place in the team this season and has been singled out for criticism at times this season. There have even been reports of his possible departure, with Lyon interested. It’s not clear whether he wants to leave or not.
What is clear is that on a crucial night in West Ham’s history, he will need to step up. If he does he may just secure his West Ham future.
Time for Diop to change his fortunes
Diop came into West Ham with a big reputation and a whole host of clubs chasing him. It was, however, West Ham who got the job done.
And for the first season, there were no complaints. He was even singled out for praise by the notably hard-to-please Jose Mourinho after Diop put in a MOTM performance against Mourinho’s Man United team.
“(He had a) fantastic match,” the United manager told BT Sport. “Congratulations to the scout that found a 21-year-old kid Diop – a monster who dominated in the duels.”
That high praise turned into interest from the Red Devils in the following summer but West Ham dug their heels in.
After that summer, things seemed to go downhill for Diop. It may have had something to do with the changing of managers from Manuel Pellegrini to David Moyes, or it may have simply been a drop in confidence. Whatever the reason Diop has not been able to recapture that same form since the end of the 2018/19 season.
Against Lyon however, he could rewrite his story.
A chance on one of the biggest nights in West Ham’s history
If there was ever a time to make yourself a hero, it would be in a Europa League quarter-final.
Despite a clear preference for Kurt Zouma, West Ham manager David Moyes has shown support for Diop in the past. Speaking after West Ham’s 1-1 Draw with Leicester, he told Football London: “I think Issa is a really good player, his form has been a little bit up and down but I think there are some reasons for that. We like Issa, we really do.”
Diop gave a good account of himself when he came on against Brentford on Sunday (Sofascore rated him as the Hammer’s best central defender with a 6.9) despite the loss.
If the £22 million man (BBC Sport) can pick up where he left off on Sunday, the team will have a much better chance. His manager backs him and if he can channel that support, this could be the day he makes that centre back spot his own.
Lyon’s potent and possession-based style of play was nullified by Rice, Zouma, and Dawson’s defensive discipline with a host of West Ham’s chance’s coming through long balls from both Rice and Dawson in the first leg.
It will be important that Diop hits the ground running in this game, any nervousness tends to spread like wildfire in games like this. It will likely take the same iron discipline from the first leg to keep the French club out. But, if he can keep his head then this could be a night he and the West Ham faithful remember forever.
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