Issa Diop is looking forward to returning to Premier League action when West Ham United tackle Fulham at London Stadium on Friday evening.
The Hammers have not played since drawing 1-1 at Crystal Palace on 9 February, with Manuel Pellegrini taking his squad away to southern Spain for a warm-weather training camp to fill the gap in the schedule.
The players returned to England refreshed on Saturday and will kick-off the week by stepping up their preparations to host their west London rivals at Rush Green.
Mitrovic is a big player. He’s a big, powerful striker, very strong and very good in aerial situations, so we need to be careful
“We play against Fulham, a London team, and we’re at home, so we know we need to win and we cannot falter,” said the Frenchman, who was part of the West Ham team which won 2-0 at Craven Cottage in the reverse fixture in December.
While a large number of Fulham’s squad are new to the Premier League this season, with the Whites having been promoted last summer before bringing in a host of new faces from overseas, Diop knows the likes of defensive midfielder Jean Michael Seri, centre-back Maxime Le Marchand and record signing Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa better than most.
The trio all played in France last season, where Diop faced them as captain of Ligue 1 side Toulouse, losing on all three occasions. The No21 is hoping for a better result this time around.
“I know some of their players because I played a lot of times against them in Ligue 1,” he confirmed. “They are all very good players, but I hope we can win this game.”
Diop is unlikely to come up directly against Seri, Le Marchand or Anguissa too often in open play, but one player he is likely to spend a lot of time in close proximity to is Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Fulham’s Serbia international centre forward and leading scorer is one of the Premier League’s most physical strikers, while he has also won more aerial battles than any other player bar Cardiff City’s Callum Paterson.
The Hammers’ 6’4 defender does not have to take a step back to anyone physically, however, and is relishing the challenge of stopping the Whites’ No9.
“Mitrovic is a big player,” he observed. “He’s a big, powerful striker, very strong and very good in aerial situations, so we need to be careful.
“I will work out how I can mark him on Friday night. I enjoy those physical battles with the strikers and not many will be as physical as Mitrovic. He uses his body really well, so I have to figure out how to get into good positions to stop him.”