There are a few players in football who are coveted by their club or nation’s fans but don’t get the same kind of appreciation from a wider audience, be it pundits or opposition fans. West Ham United’s midfield general Cheikhou Kouyate is one such player.
The Senegalese has established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in England. He has also scored four times and assisted another goal making his contribution even more significant.
Slavan Bilic has done an impressive job at the club since taking over in the summer and the Hammers currently find themselves in seventh place, level on points with sixth placed Southampton and one behind Manchester United in fifth place.
They are vying for a European spot, and if the team continues to perform in the manner it has been all season, there is no reason why they won’t be rewarded with that.
While the likes of Dimitri Payet, Antonio and Aaron Cresswell have received a lot of plaudits for the performances West Ham have been displaying recently, others like Cheikhou Kouyaté’s and Mark Noble have gone unsung.
Kouyate joined the Hammers from Belgian outfit Anderlecht, for whom the player had made over 200 appearances in five seasons, in the summer of 2014 for £5.75m. He made an immediate impact and was likened to Patrick Viera by former manager Sam Allardyce.
Primarily a midfielder (he has also operated at the back when needed) Kouyate has the ability to break up play. He has put on brilliant performances in the midfield and his ability to carry the ball deep into opposition territory and find a pass when it’s needed stands out especially.
He averages 2.9 successful tackles and 1.7 interceptions every 90 minutes. Standing tall at Standing at nearly 6’4″, his aerial ability is also one of his strengths and he has won 2.6 out of an attempted 4.3 aerial duals every 90 minutes.
Kouyate likes to keep the game ticking from the centre of the pitch and prefers to play short passes to teammates. He is not one who tries to do too much and complicate the game. His style of play can be described as no-nonsense.
He is an excellent reader of the game and is extremely confident on the ball. His athleticism allows him to be involved in the game even further up the pitch, which can be illustrated by the fact that he has contributed five goals this season.
Noble and Kouyate have proved to be a winning combination in the midfield as the duo’s individual strengths have complimented each other and have allowed the rest of the team to benefit from their domination in the midfield.
Kouyate was coveted by Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton when West Ham “fought many clubs” to acquire his services. After seeing him perform the way he has in the last one and a half-years, it is not difficult to figure out why.
He has been a very vital cog in the very well-oiled West Ham machine. If he continues to perform in the same manner, there is no reason why he won’t make a step-up in the summer if West Ham miss out on European qualification.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra
Follow Aakriti on Twitter @Aakriti1
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