Harry Sherlock of Goal.com is becoming a Boleyn regular this season and following yesterday’s game against Leicester City takes a look at the growing problem he believes West Ham are struggling with – the all too regular appearances of Kevin Nolan.
He writes that everything we are achieving is being managed with 10 men and reckons pour Euro chances will be handicapped by the player’s constant involvement.
In amongst the superb results, amazing league position and often outstanding football , there has been something quite remarkable about West Ham’s season to date.
They have beaten the champions, strung together a five-match unbeaten run and are firmly entrenched in the top four ahead of the busy festive period.
And all this has been achieved while playing with 10 men.
Kevin Nolan, while not quite the ‘captain, leader, legend’ figure that many may have expected him to become, appears to be indispensable under Sam Allardyce.
Yet on Saturday and in several other games this season he turns in performances bereft of inspiration. Against Leicester City on Saturday he was a passenger as the Hammers picked up a comfortable three points against the Foxes relegation fodder.
Where Stewart Downing zipped from side-to-side, occasionally dropping deep, and scored a brilliant goal, Nolan appeared dazed and somewhat confused.
It is not like Allardyce doesn’t have other options; Mauro Zarate continues to sit on the bench following his summer arrival, while Morgan Amalfitano has also seen his role diminish after a fluid start. And yet one can’t help but feel the Argentine would be a better option.
It is clear that Nolan prefers to play as an attacking midfielder, off the striker, even if that means disrupting Downing’s rhythm, yet Zarate is a specialist in that position, as evidenced by his superb performance against QPR earlier this season.
But it is Nolan who has appeared 13 times this season accumulating 616 minutes on the pitch whilst Zarate has 415 minutes to his name, from seven appearances.
That Nolan is a manager’s favourite should come as no surprise; he appears almost to be the son Allardyce wished he’d had, and the relationship between the two was the fulcrum of the Hammers’ title charge when they dropped into the Championship. Nolan was inspirational as the Hammers recovered.
But, much like a similar player of his ilk, Scott Parker, Nolan’s legs have begun to go. He is an impact player but that is nullified when he starts..
He thrives on arriving late into the box and smashing a shot at goal as defences fail to track him when they begin to tire. This then is the dilemma.
While Nolan is still a good player – he remains the captain of a Premier League club, after all – he cannot be allowed to dictate the destiny of the Hammers’ European tilt.
At 32 he is no longer the match-changing No.10 he once was; he has created just six chances this term and, despite scoring once, has provided only one assist.
Even if he were to drop deep – as Steven Gerrard did so successfully as Liverpool chased an unlikely Premier League victory in 2013-14 – the statistics suggest he would still struggle. He wins just 36% of his duels and his immobility would leave Winston Reid and James Tomkins stranded were he to be bypassed in midfield.
In 200 less minutes, Zarate has provided the same number of assists as Nolan, but has scored twice, whilst creating one more chance. Where Nolan’s goal came with his head, Zarate’s two have come with both feet.
A dynamic, explosive presence, Zarate, at 27, has a point to prove in the Premier League and has impressed when appearing this season.
Not an out-and-out striker, he supplements the significant, pacey threats of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia and also provides a willing runner for Andy Carroll. Though not perfect – he has conceded 10 fouls to Nolan’s six – Zarate is the kind of player West Ham fans crave.
Truly two-footed, his dribbling ability is remarkable and to see him play is to be reminded of Carlos Tevez – his low centre of gravity offers defenders an option to either scythe him down or be fooled by his trickery.
Nolan offers none of that. While previously a fan favourite, the Upton Park crowd is turning. Throughout the 2-0 win over Leicester yesterday there were vociferous cries for Nolan to be replaced.
For West Ham’s sake, those supporters must hope that Allardyce swiftly rescinds his head boy’s starting spot. Zarate is the better option and, if the Hammers are to continue their top-four tilt, a change must be made sooner rather than later.
The views expressed here are those of the blogger and are not necessarily shared by ClaretandHugh