In Focus: Dia has the Vill to fire Emery's men to new heights
Boulaye Dia was playing amateur football as recently as 2017 — now he is getting ready for his first season with Europa League winners Villarreal.
Last season proved to be unforgettable for the Yellow Submarine as Unai Emery steered the club to their first major trophy.
Beating Manchester United on penalties in the Europa League final will live long in the memory but attention now turns to building on that success for one of LaLiga’s smaller sides.
Ahead of tonight’s Super Cup tussle with Chelsea, we look at Villarreal's recent capture from Reims and consider what kind of impact the forward can have for Emery's side.
Dia, 24, has had an exceptional ascent in professional football over the past five seasons.
The forward was picked up by fourth division French outfit Jura Sud Foot in the summer of 2017 and he went on to score 15 times in 21 matches.
That form earned Dia a move to Ligue 1 side Reims the following summer.
Three years later, with 88 appearances, 28 goals and three assists under his belt, West Ham were one of a host of clubs linked with Dia.
But it was Villarreal who captured his signature, with the Senegal international signing for a fee of around £10million last month.
Constant goal threat
Last season, Dia hit an impressive 14 Ligue 1 goals for Reims as the Champagne-based outfit narrowly avoided the drop.
Those strikes amounted to 33.33% of his side’s overall goal tally, highlighting his importance to the club.
Dia was on the money when it came to his non-penalty expected goals tally (nine), hitting the back of the net nine times from open play — giving a good indication of his reliability as a finisher.
Impressively, he managed that despite averaging just 1.78 shots per 90 minutes — only 0.67 of which were on target.
That is in part due to Reims’ lack of quality but his shot accuracy of 37.9% will need improvement.
Thanks to his well-rounded skill set and physicality, Dia is a constant menace for opposition defenders.
Blessed with a good turn of pace and lightning-quick acceleration, he enjoys working in a pressing system usually as the lone striker — a style Emery likes to deploy.
His hold-up play is particularly strong, with Dia capable of bullying his man one-on-one to hold up the ball for his side on the counter-attack.
The marksman was in the 80th percentile for interceptions when compared with forwards across Europe’s top five leagues last season (0.49) and the 71st percentile for tackles (0.86).
Dia’s raw physicality does not come at the expense of technical quality.
During his time with Reims, he developed into a versatile forward capable of linking up the play with notable ease.
His 80.5% pass completion rate is among the best for strikers in France’s top flight while his 61.5% dribble success eclipsed Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe (46.6%) last season.
That flexibility has previously seen him operate on both flanks and also as a second striker with great success.
The first challenge for Dia will be breaking into Emery’s starting XI on a regular basis.
With Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcacer on the books — the duo netted 42 goals in all competitions between them last season — he will have to work hard for opportunities.
Speaking after signing, Dia said: "I want to have continuity and improve my level on the pitch each season.
"I want to grow at Villarreal and develop my career alongside the club's triumphs and win titles."
After a long wait, Villarreal have got the taste for trophies — and Dia has the quality to aid their hunt for more silverware.