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Issa Diop or Tosin: who should be first-choice centre-back?

Written by Malcolm Eisenhardt on 13th April 2023

© Dara Curran

In his debut piece, Malcolm Eisenhardt tries to settle the season-long debate: who is best-placed to partner Tim Ream?

Fulham’s hugely successful season has seen Marco Silva make very few unforced changes to his starting XI, only making alterations for injuries and suspensions. Most notably, Carlos Vinicius has replaced the injured or suspended Mitrovic, Saša Lukić has filled in for João Palhinha after he reached 10 yellow cards, and Bobby De Cordova-Reid replaced the injured Kenny Tete for five games at right-back. However, there is one anomaly within Silva’s squad selections: Issa Diop and Tosin Adarabioyo.

With neither player having any injuries, the stats show that our Portuguese mastermind can’t quite choose between the two Fulham giants. Tosin has started 16 Premier League games this season, compared to Issa’s 20, and they have both started five games each against the current top six. Silva evidently trusts both players to perform against the toughest opponents that the Prem has to offer, but who do the statistics favour?

Why choose Diop?

The French giant has a wealth of Premier League experience and despite a disappointing end to his West Ham career, amounted 121 appearances for the Hammers. He has 115 Premier League appearances, 85 Ligue 1 appearances, and seven Europa League appearances. The 26-year-old cost Shahid Khan approximately £15m this summer, and he has proved to be a very useful signing for the Whites.

Tosin Adarabioyo started the first nine games of the season but since then, Issa has had the majority of starts. There is good reason for this. The Frenchmen has been better with the ball at his feet, and boasts a PL pass completion rate of 85%, four percentage points higher than his competition. Marco Silva’s system involves a strict policy to play out from the back and with Tosin being dispossessed four times more than his French counterpart, I understand why Issa has enjoyed most of the playing time since matchday 10.

Despite having started five more games, Issa possesses six clean sheets and has conceded just nineteen goals in his seventeen starts (1.1 goal per start). This enormously overshadows Tosin’s two clean sheets in fourteen starts, conceding twenty-six goals (1.9 goal per start).

Why choose Tosin?

The 25-year-old Mancunian fashionista has proved himself as a reliable centre-back for Marco Silva across the last two seasons. A product of the Manchester City youth set-up, Tosin has been publicly praised by Pep Guardiola, whom he trained under during his time as a Cityzen. Last year, Tosin was voted into the PFA and EFL Championship team of the season after a stellar campaign in which he earned 14 clean sheets, conceding just 43 goals in 41 games.

Adarabioyo maintains a serious case for the starting shirt. The Manchester City graduate has won 75% of his headers across all competitions this campaign, comfortably outperforming Diop’s 62%. He also has a significantly better points per game ratio than Issa, currently standing at 1.65 points per start, compared to Issa’s 1.25. To put this into perspective, Tosin’s ratio earns 57 points per season, and Issa’s 48. Translated into the 2021/22 PL season, Tosin’s Fulham ratio would finish just one point below Manchester United in seventh, dwarfing Issa’s 13th place finish.

Who would I start?

In my opinion, the statistics lean in favour of Issa Diop, with fewer goals conceded and more clean sheets. He has greater Premier League experience and I have greater trust in him, especially considering our style of play. However, Tosin has still played a significant role in our season, directly helping the squad amass 24 of their 39 points. Tosin is an extremely valuable player, and I can’t imagine us finding a player of his quality and age without a hefty price tag.

Ultimately, they are both sound options, but I would opt for the Frenchman as my first choice. However, after Tosin’s man of the match performance versus West Ham on the weekend, the importance of rotating the two centre-backs shone through. It drives competition and ensures both players are properly rested.

The contract situations

After signing on a three-year deal worth £6.3 million in 2020, the Fulham board opted to activate a one-year extension clause in January this year, meaning Tosin will remain at the cottage until summer 2024. In his three-year spell, he is closing in on a century of appearances for the Whites.

Diop’s signed on a five-year deal last summer worth around £18 million, expiring in June of 2027. His contract is more fruitful than Tosin’s – something to bear in mind considering Fulham’s current financial losses.

My perfect scenario

Ideally, Tosin signs until 2027. If he commits until 2027, we can enjoy his services and/or profit handsomely from his transfer fee. And, as much as it pains me to think about it, one day we must say goodbye to the great Tim Ream (how cool and composed would he be on a date by the way). It would not be the most romantic ending for Tosin and Fulham, but his transfer fee could lay the foundations for a new generation. Football is a business, after all.

My prediction

This is a rarity, but I really hope I am wrong on this one. I see Tosin being sold this summer. Monaco showed interest in January, and with our SW6 rivals snapping up their centre-back Benoit Badiashile for £33 million, they need a replacement. FYI, Badiashile cost about £12 million more than our entire back four…

I predict Fulham selling Tosin for somewhere in the region of £20 million this summer, before his contract runs out in June 2024. I hope I’m wrong.

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