Fresh from the AFCON and away from the clutches of January buyers, Lamine Kone is securely at David Moyes’ disposal and ready to see out the rest of our season.
For the first half of this campaign Kone has produced a handful of performances ranging from disappointingly average, to frustratingly almost-as-good-as-last-season. His presence on the back-line clearly could’ve been better with many speculating, quite reasonably, that Lamine was simply waiting for the Sunderland exit door to be left ajar.
However, since returning from active duty with the Ivory Coast, Kone has looked much more like the marauding powerhouse originally employed by Allardyce a year ago. The goalless holdout at home to Tottenham and the recent capitulation of the aforementioned manager’s Crystal Palace without reply are testaments to that fact.
Conventionally, a fixture away from home against a relegation rival when our spirits are sunken could be anything from a narrow, heart-wrenching loss to a straight-up battering. So, naturally, no one could’ve predicted a 0-4 rout.
Even Moyes (or, should I say, especially Moyes) undoubtedly would’ve believed such a win inconceivable – given his comments in the press about being unable to strengthen the squad in January and more recently cursing Allardyce for inheriting a bad side.
But now this alleged impossibility has been shown to be a genuine reality, we need to maintain that we can perform just as well again – and Kone is integral to the realisation of that.
Surely, though, Defoe is the source of our success? Kone is good, yeah, but Defoe is always our leading light, right? Why bother even starting a weekly instalment like this when he’s the one netting all our goals!?
Well, clearly we do need Defoe, yes. Defoe scores us goals, which more often than not means we can win games. But the team needs resilience if we’re to push on and claw our way out of the drop, and such resilience can only come from the back-line. Without Kone, we might not have enough.
But what’s setting him apart from the others?
We’ve won five games this season, and Kone has played a part in all five of them - this alone is compelling evidence – but the sceptics can be assured his appearances and our wins aren’t just a rogue correlation.
Kone’s tackle success this season stands at a formidable 94% which sets it apart from the more average scores of 71% had by John O’Shea, Papy Djilobodji and Jason Denayer. Kone has won the most 50/50s of any of our aforementioned defenders there, too. The big Ivorian has emerged victorious from twelve of these encounters, Papy is close by with eleven, Denayer has three and JOS has none.
Plus, remember how I said there were allegations he was putting in half-hearted performances earlier this season? Well, bear that in mind when considering he’s still surpassing his colleagues in these stats despite that.
If he seems to be applying himself a lot more now, surely he can only be even more important to securing us wins?
Southampton’s newest acquisition, Manolo Gabbiadini, will hope to build on his debut goal against West Ham last week, but if Kone can maintain his form we should have enough to ensure the Saints can’t go marching in.
The opposition sit seven places higher than us in the Premier League table but match our number of goals we’ve scored this season at twenty-four. They’ve also just endured back-to-back losses and we’re on consecutive clean-sheets. Statistically speaking, Lamine has the perfect opportunity to make himself the defensive vanguard of a good run of games.
Another great performance from Kone this weekend is exactly what we need to build on last Saturday’s awe-inspiring victory. With a solid defence reinforced by the big Ivorian, we can afford to relinquish our over-dependence on Defoe to score teams to death. Instead, you might find that we can dispatch teams without fear of spontaneously falling apart.
Let’s hope that, with the help of Kone, we can realise this!