Transfer Talk: West Ham target Aguerd facing Salah showdown
Morocco defender Nayef Aguerd has played a crucial part in the Atlas Lions' run to the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
Now the 25-year-old will face his toughest challenge yet when he comes up against Mohamed Salah's Egypt in Yaounde this afternoon.
The game offers the Rennes man a chance to impress once more, with West Ham known to be one of several clubs monitoring his development.
With defensive problems threatening to derail the Hammers' top-four chances this term, we examine Aguerd's form and what he would offer David Moyes' backline.
West Ham did not have significant depth at centre-back even before Angelo Ogbonna’s season-ending ACL injury, with Craig Dawson, Issa Diop and summer signing Kurt Zouma their only other senior options.
Competing in Europe, on top of their domestic campaign, was always likely to take its toll — and the Irons have been stretched at times.
Though the January transfer window is about to slam shut, there might yet be time to bring a new defensive face to the London Stadium.
Shipping three goals in recent home defeats to Southampton and Leeds provided an alarming set back for the East Londoners.
Having initially made an approach for Aguerd last summer, Moyes may now be eager to make a revised bid for the Moroccan.
Europe may be on the agenda for West Ham, but Aguerd has continental ambitions of his own.
He has started all four Africa Cup of Nations games for Morocco, helping his country reach the last eight of the tournament.
And, short of scoring an unfortunate own goal against Gabon in the group stage, he has largely impressed — mainly lining up alongside captain Roman Saiss of Wolves at the heart of their back four.
The Atlas Lions are one of the favourites to reach a first AFCON final since 2004, and Aguerd will undoubtedly be a key part of any success.
Aguerd joined Rennes from Dijon in the summer of 2020 and has gone on to make 65 appearances for the club, including four in their maiden Champions League campaign last term.
The Red and Blacks are going well under Bruno Genesio this season and currently sit fifth in Ligue 1 after 22 games.
While European action is on the cards in Brittany, the chance to push for Champions League football with the Hammers would surely be a more alluring prospect for the 10-cap international.
Head and shoulders above
A look at the data behind Aguerd’s performances makes it clear that his biggest strength is his heading ability.
The Kenitra native has won 71.4% of his aerial duels this term — the second-highest proportion among Ligue 1 defenders to have contested 50 or more aerial battles.
He is also averaging 2.12 headed clearances per 90 minutes, which is the sixth-most in the division.
Dominance in the air is a quality which Moyes ought to admire — and not just from a defensive perspective either.
West Ham tend to excel at corners and free-kicks. Only Liverpool (12), Manchester City and Chelsea (both 10) have scored more set-piece goals in the Premier League this season than their eight.
A good egg
Aguerd’s first manager at Rennes was Julien Stephan, who was full of praise for the 6ft 2in defender’s character.
Speaking in 2020, Stephan said: "He is a cerebral person, who thinks a lot and is attentive, constantly in the exchange and in the sharing.
"He is someone very simple, full of humility, who shows a great desire to progress."
It therefore sounds like Aguerd could be an ideal fit for West Ham in terms of personality as well as quality — a vital factor given the positive culture Moyes is fostering at the club.
If Aguerd is able to shackle Salah tonight, it will be another indication that he is ready to battle Premier League stars on a more regular basis.