West Ham club captain Mark Noble rolled back the years with a sensational display in the 3-2 victory over Wolves at Molineux.
The 33-year-old came back into the starting XI to replace the injured Declan Rice. Goals from Jesse Lingard, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen gave us a healthy lead, before Leander Dendoncker and Fabio Silva struck for the hosts.
Noble put in a fantastic shift and inspired his teammates to victory on the night, it’s by far the best he’s played this season. Prior to this, we were yet to win a game in which the number 16 has started.
Loads to give
There were always going to be concerns around the injury to Rice, but Noble has done well to settle the initial nerves. He was sublime at Molineux, not putting a foot wrong.
This was a different sort of performance than we’ve seen him put in previously during the campaign. Usually, Nobes will sit in front of Rice and Tomas Soucek as a third CM, which invites pressure onto us as he rarely presses high these days.
We looked a lot better with him sitting deep, anchoring the midfield with Soucek. It also allowed the Czech international to roam and play more of a box-to-box role as he does so well.
With Noble sitting deep, Arthur Masuaku and Vladimir Coufal also had the freedom to bomb on. It worked a treat, as Masuaku marked his return from injury with an assist for Fornals with 14 minutes played.
In the second half we took more caution with Adama Traore. He ran the West Ham backline ragged in the first half, getting one of the assists of the season. Aaron Cresswell and Masuaku would often double up on him, enabled by Noble who would sit in place of Cresswell.
An example of which is below. Immediately in the second half, Wolves play the ball wide to Traore. Cresswell and Masuaku shift over as Noble tracks back to fill the void.
He sits on the edge of the 18-year-box to keep an eye on Neto. Our defenders crowd him out and show him down the line.
Traore fires the ball high and wide. This was very effective in the second half, Noble is far more efficient at this end of the pitch for us breaking up play than he is going forward these days.
Despite dominating the opening phases of the game, we allowed Wolves to have the lion share of possession on the night. We had the ball just 33% of the time but were always useful when we did.
Having him sit with Soucek, Coufal, Masuaku and Fornals doing the running around him allows him to analyse the game and lead. He’s well aware of what his strengths are these days and plays to them well.
If he plays with this level of intelligence going forward, he can absolutely fill the void left by Rice. There is no doubting the ability of Noble. After all, he’s taught Rice so much over the last couple of seasons.
The initial concern was regarding his ability to run for 90 minutes. He demonstrated his superior intelligence again on Monday – let’s hope he does more of the same on Sunday against Leicester.
In other West Ham news, here are three things we learned in the 3-2 win over Wolves.