West Ham United’s promising season has been derailed in the last few weeks.
Manuel Pellegrini had been turning the Hammers into a genuine Premier League force.
But a dismal exit from the FA Cup at the hands of League Two-destined AFC Wimbledon has been sandwiched by awful defeats to Bournemouth and Wolves in the league.
The harsh reality is that it leaves West Ham will little to play for but pride for the remainder of the season.
Injuries have had a big say once again for West Ham.
A Premier League-worst – and seemingly ever-growing – injury list has denied Pellegrini of key players all season long.
Bare bones and Diop is suffering
That means Pellegrini has had to rely on the same group of 15 or 16 senior players.
Nobody has suffered more than ever present Issa Diop, though.
That’s according to Hammers skipper Mark Noble in his latest column for the Evening Standard.
Young French centre back Diop cost West Ham £22.5 million in the summer, a club record for a defender.
He has looked a snip at that price too.
Labelled a ‘monster’ by Jose Mourinho after West Ham’s 3-1 win over Manchester United earlier in the season, there was even talk of a shock call-up to the French senior side.
‘He could do with a rest’
Diop remains one of West Ham’s better players week-to-week.
But like the team his performance levels have dipped of late.
And Noble feels the 22-year-old is the teammate most in need of a rest.
“At the moment, we only have 15 fit first-team players and if you look at the past six weeks, we’ve played a lot of games and that has had a cumulative effect,” Noble told the Evening Standard.
“Issa Diop has played every match since he made his debut at Arsenal in August and could probably do with a rest but, at the moment, we haven’t got any alternatives.”
Subtle dig at Hammers owners?
Noble’s comments could also be construed as a subtle dig at the club’s owners.
West Ham failed to bring in any reinforcements for the first team in January following the free signing of Samir Nasri.
And Noble’s comments about a lack of ‘alternatives’ will strike a chord with Hammers fans who were disappointed with the club’s lack of activity ahead of the deadline.
The biggest factor for young Diop, though, has been the absence of influential central defensive partner Fabian Balbuena.
The Paraguayan, nicknamed The General, has been out since before Christmas and looks set to miss another month.
He and Diop had forged an impressive partnership which bodes well for when Balbuena makes it back.