Five players who helped themselves in the FA Cup

Date published: Monday 29th January 2018 8:15

Fousseni Diabate (Leicester City)
It stands to reason that every player Leicester City sign from the French leagues will be unfairly compared to N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez, but Diabate’s Leicester debut is hardly likely to dampen expectation. In an age of mammoth price tags, is this the first case of a transfer fee being fully paid off on debut?

Diabate was expected to start his time in England in Leicester’s Under-23 team as he found his feet in a new country at the age of 22 after a budget £2m arrival. Yet Claude Puel considered the opportunity to test his new player against League One opposition too good to miss. Diabate scored two goals and assisted another.

Given Leicester’s difficulty in signing strikers, this is important. Kelechi Iheanacho also impressed against Peterborough, and Puel will hope that the failures of Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa have been firmly put to bed.

Leicester’s manager will beware the over-exuberant hype after an admittedly exceptional debut, but he will also have high hopes for Diabate; Puel has already got a scouting report from his son Gregoire, a team-mate of his new signing at Ajaccio. RIP French scouting.

 

Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea)
A very weird Chelsea career is about to come to an end, first temporarily and then presumably on a permanent deal in the summer. Antonio Conte’s dislike of Batshuayi might be slightly overplayed, but it’s pretty clear that he’s not a fan.

Like Jose Mourinho before him, Conte prefers a traditional centre forward presence who can play with back to goal rather than a false nine. That explains the interest in Edin Dzeko, even if it doesn’t quite cover the Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll pursuits.

Batshuayi may not be fit for Conte’s purpose, but that does not mean he cannot find a new home where he is cherished. The Belgian has scored 17 Chelsea goals at a rate of better than one every 100 minutes. If some of his performances have been rusty, that might be down to being left on the sidelines for long periods at a time. So too have Alvaro Morata’s, and he hasn’t suffered the same treatment.

Mohamed Salah, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are three attacking players who failed to click at Stamford Bridge but flourished elsewhere. Batshuayi will be confident of repeating the trick. He has two international teammates to consult for advice.

 

Jay Rodriguez (West Brom)
The scorer of two goals in a game for only the second time in almost four years. Rodriguez’s injury problems offer a partial explanation for that drought, but he will extremely pleased to have finally hit a purple patch. Five goals in his last six matches represents the striker’s best run since 2013/14.

It has also coincided with Alan Pardew’s appointment and use of a 4-4-2 formation, Rodriguez typically playing alongside Salomon Rondon and both strikers enjoying being part of a partnership after the 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 under Tony Pulis. That Pulis formation demanded a target man up front. Rodriguez played on the left, on the right and as a No. 10.

Pardew’s comments after the game were interesting. He insisted that he needs a new striker to compete for places with Rodriguez otherwise his forward would “stop reacting”, intimating that Rodriguez can easily coast. Rodriguez has always struck as a hardworking forward, too often shunted out of position as a make-do option. Back in a central role, he is flourishing again.

 

Connor Roberts (Swansea City)
Swansea’s fringe first-team players failed to take their chance to impress their new manager, but one of their academy graduates did. Roberts has played 54 of his 65 career appearances for Yeovil Town in League Two, but finally started his first Swansea game at the age of 22. WalesOnline made him their man of the match, but even the highlights of the game demonstrated his willingness to push on down the flanks and pin back the opposition full-back.

Given Swansea’s struggles in wide areas this season, Roberts might be called upon again. Premier League teams are lambasted for making multiple changes when facing lower-league opposition, but it does at least allow them to see which of their reserve and academy options have the determination to take their chance. If nothing else, it improves Roberts’ CV in case the Premier League proves to be a step too high.

 

Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
Silva has become the forgotten man of Manchester City’s attack, a starter in just six of their 24 league games and with only 91 fewer minutes in the two domestic cup competitions than the Premier League. If you’d forgotten what he can do, here was the perfect reminder.

Silva had a goal wrongly disallowed, but his cross for City’s second goal was sensational. Raheem Sterling would hardly count heading amongst his strengths, but he could hardly miss the chance created by an attacking midfielder capable of popping up almost anywhere across the pitch.

Silva was also clever enough to praise his manager before the game, a strategic ploy when chasing more first-team opportunities.

“One of the best things about playing for Pep is that he makes you feel important,” he told the Daily Mirror. “It will always happen that some players play more games than others but he makes everyone feel part of the squad, that’s why we have such a great atmosphere in the squad.”

Nice timing, and an opportunity well taken. Manchester City have been fortunate with injuries this season, in that the only member of the attack to sustain a serious injury is Gabriel Jesus, who has an able replacement. Here was proof – should it be needed – than an injury to one of the wide players need not be a disaster. With Leroy Sane assaulted by Joe Bennett and out for at least two weeks, Silva can step up.

Daniel Storey


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