Balbuena and Diop make strong case for the defence

Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop keep tabs on Eden Hazard


West Ham United’s central defensive pairing of Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop are earning rave reviews for their flourishing partnership.

The Paraguay international and young Frenchman are quickly developing an understanding that has helped the Hammers start to turn around their indifferent start to the 2018/19 Premier League season.

Balbuena’s positioning, decision-making and concentration have stood out in West Ham’s 3-1 win at Everton and goalless home draw with a previously free-scoring Chelsea, with the 27-year-old totalling a team-high 20 clearances and six interceptions across the two matches.

Diop has also been outstanding, with the towering 21-year-old’s pace and strength enabling him to stop opposition attackers in their tracks.

After a difficult debut at Arsenal, where he scored an own-goal in the Hammers’ 3-1 defeat, the former Toulouse man has quickly adapted to the demands of the Premier League, producing dominant displays against two of English football’s toughest opponents.

Another outstanding performance by Issa Diop and a clean sheet – against Chelsea of all teams, having been battered in the opening exchanges – has not gone unnoticed

Garth Crooks

The No23 produced two all-round defensive performances to help shore-up a previously leaky West Ham defence, while his accurate distribution of the ball – Diop completed 18 out of 19 attempted passes and lost possession just once in 90 minutes against Chelsea – enabled Manuel Pellegrini’s side to build from the back and launch a succession of dangerous counter-attacks.

And the summer arrival from the south of France has caught the eye of BBC pundit and former Tottenham Hotspur striker Garth Crooks, who named Diop in his Team of the Week following Sunday’s keenly-contested stalemate.

“He was outstanding against Everton last week and was unlucky not to make my TOTW then,” Crooks wrote. “However, another outstanding performance by Issa Diop and a clean sheet – against Chelsea of all teams, having been battered in the opening exchanges – has not gone unnoticed.”

The Guardian’s Nick Miller was impressed by West Ham’s overall defensive organisation as the east Londoners scored their first win before stifling a team which had scored 14 goals in its opening five Premier League matches.

“Perhaps the most encouraging thing for West Ham from their last two fixtures is they looked like they had a plan,” Miller wrote. “Against Everton they played with some attacking purpose, striking at just the right times to efficiently bag three points, while on Sunday they were rather more circumspect but no less organised, creating a defensive block that Chelsea could not find a way through – no small feat given their perfect record until that point.”

Balbuena and Diop will get the chance to continue developing their partnership against another of the Premier League’s big guns on Saturday, when Manchester United visit London Stadium.