Is Issa Diop’s sticky second season a reason for West Ham to worry

For a short time, Issa Diop was West Ham’s record signing, and his debut season was a roaring success. But this second season has been much more of a struggle.

When a defender becomes your record signing it’s only natural that fans are going to be expecting something a bit interesting. And West Ham fans were treated to a great opening season from the young Frenchman, with hard tackling and no fear in the face of some the top names in the Premier League. But in his second season, we saw him struggling to impose himself on opposition attacks and making a number of mistakes on the ball. So what’s really gone wrong?

Issa Diop’s story of first season success and the second season of struggle isn’t all that strange. Especially when the squad is one under pressure to improve, and the player in question is a young one. Coming into the league full of excitement and energy with no expectations is much easier than teams coming up with ways to get around you and exploit perceived weaknesses.

Plus, in season one, Fabian Balbuena was on the top of his commanding game, providing a strong partner for Diop. This season, there’s been a lot of centreback rotations, and with Angelo Ogbonna taking the left centre back role and locking it down in the second half of the season, Diop has been shifted slightly. And it’s really shifted Diop’s performance downwards this year.

Statistical Drop

Using the trusty Whoscored for stats, it’s clear to see that Diop just hasn’t managed to maintain any kind of defensive consistency. In his first season, Diop managed 2.1 tackles, 1.9 interceptions and 1.1 blocks with only 0.5 fouls per 90 minutes. This drops to 0.8 tackles, 1.5 interceptions, 0.7 blocks with 1 foul per 90 minutes in the last Premier League campaign, which is especially concerning on the tackles and fouls measure. Fewer successful tackles with more fouls isn’t a recipe for success in the centre of defence.

In terms of passing, he grabbed an assist this season, but as a centre back that’s not really his job. With his pass success rate dropping from 86% to 78% he’s been giving the ball away a lot more, and it’s not as though he’s been trying longer passes with his long balls attempted per 90, staying fairly consistent (dropping slightly from 1.6 to 1.5).

When comparing to his time in Toulouse, his passing success rate was always in the mid to high 70s, although he did play twice the number of long balls per game in France compared to West Ham. So the 86% season was a very good year for him rather than the norm. However, his defensive stats for a 30 appearance season have never dropped 1.6 tackles, 1.6 interceptions and 0.7 blocks per game before. This gives us a bit of hope that this season was a defensive blip rather than what we can expect to see going forward.

2 forward, 1 back

Was Diop’s season a good one? No. Not by the standards he set the previous year, not by the club’s standard and not by the historic standard he has set over his career so far. So that is obviously negative. But there are a lot of positives to take out of keeping someone like Diop around the club and in the first team set up.

At 23 he still has a lot of growing into the game to do, and with TransferMarkt valuing him between 25 and 30m, he’s clearly a talented and valuable asset to have on the books. Another season of stepping forward into his potential and we either have a big sale on our hands or a talented centre-back who could be around the club for a long time to come. Hopefully, this season will be just a blip on his overall career trajectory.