Mitchell Hall > Through the start of the current season West Ham looked set to rotate between Angelo Ogbonna, Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop, with the starting pair having varied over the course of the last season.
Then there was Craig Dawson, the Watford reserve defender arriving in a rather perplexing loan deal to reactions ranging from frustration to amusement. The consensus formed almost immediately that Dawson was simply a reserve and rotation player; at best the fourth choice for the first team squad.
That was until a fortunate series of events and some unassured displays of defending from Diop gave Dawson a chance during Balbuena’ absence. It is fair to say that he took his chance and ran with it.
Since his integration into the squad, he has kept four clean sheets and scored three times, all in just seven appearances. Dawson has silenced his critics and endeared himself to the fanbase almost immediately, and continues to provide confident defensive showings alongside surprising ability in the form of long passes and forward ball distribution.
Now however, manager David Moyes is faced with a decision in his selection for his centre back pairing. It’s obvious that Dawson has managed to secure his spot for now – him and Ogbonna at this point are practically un-droppable – but it’s easy to feel for Balbuena given the situation, that he had finally found some consistency in his impressive performances before becoming unavailable due to having contact with a COVID-19 positive person.
Despite this seemingly unfair situation for Balbuena, it seems to be getting the best out of everyone. With three Premier League quality centre backs all tussling for two spots, the pressure is on to provide high work-rate and strong performances. In a squad struggling for depth, it’s a rare time where West Ham fans can not only feel comfortable with their defensive options, but even their backups.
This leaves previous starter Issa Diop in a particular bind, with his current position as, at best, a fourth choice defender, and the recent arrival of young Frederik Alves, Diop faces an unsure future at the club. His flashes of ability and youth would suggest Diop may be worth hanging onto for the future, but these same factors could also draw in substantial offers for him in the future. So the answer that is yet to be seen, will Dawson continue to surprise, will Diop fight for his place in the squad or be sold in the summer, and will Alves develop and impress in the youth setup? In any case, the future for West Ham’s defence appears to be positive.