The famous West Ham Academy has produced some of England’s finest players. From Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters to Paul Ince, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard, it’s hard to ignore the calibre of the players West Ham develop.
So it is with great interest that we look upon one of West Ham’s current academy graduates, Mark Noble.
Noble has been with West Ham since his early teens. He broke into the first team in 2007 and has been a constant presence ever since. It’s easy to think of him being older than he is, but at only 25 Noble is yet to reach his peak. Midfielders are considered to be at their peak between 26 and 32 so the future could hold even more promise for him, especially if he continues to show the impressive form that has seen him mooted for a potential England call up.
Noble is a deep-lying playmaker, a passing midfielder with vision and a solid footballing brain. He is noted for his high work rate and tenacious defending, as well as his accuracy from corners and free kicks. If he were to be compared to a style of player, it would be an Alonso, Gerrard or Pirlo – players capable of holding, distributing and orchestrating with aplomb.
Now I’m not saying Noble has reached the dizzying heights of the aforementioned players. I’m simply saying that these players help conjure an image of the style of player Noble is: an intelligent, creative footballer who can dictate the tempo of a game and provide moments of magic.
As I mentioned above, Noble is a player very much in the Alonso, Gerrard, or Pirlo mould. We’re going to look at a comparison between Noble and Gerrard, as Gerrard plays in the Premier League and faces the same opposition as Noble. This allows us to make a fair comparison.
Both players operate in the same area of the pitch, though Gerrard has more licence to go forward while Noble plays a more defensive role. So we want to look at the players’ differences, as well as their similarities.
Please Note: Stats from the West Ham Vs Stoke game are not included in this comparison.
[table id=102 /]
This data shows us that Noble makes more challenges than Gerrard. However, Liverpool play with a higher percentage of possession (Liverpool average 57.5% per game and West Ham 43.6%) so its fair to say that West Ham will be in defensive situations more often than Liverpool. That aside, it is still testament to the combative nature of Noble, and one of the key differences between him and Gerrard.
Gerrard is a more attacking midfielder than Noble. By this I mean that he takes on players and looks to get forward more than Noble does. This is why Gerrard loses possession more, because he takes on players and operates more in the attacking third where pressure on the ball is much higher. We can see this in the data above.
Gerrard will defend when Liverpool lose possession, but he won’t actively seek the ball outside of his zone. We can see this in the data below, which shows that Gerrard has made considerably fewer tackles than Noble this season.
Noble is more of a defensive midfielder. His main responsibility when he doesn’t have the ball is to press and engage the opposition. His job is to win the ball before the opposing team threatens the West Ham defensive line, allowing them to keep structure. He makes more successful tackles per game than any other player in the Premier League, averaging 4.5 every match.
Noble rarely takes on players (see table below) and tends to sit a little deeper than Gerrard. Almost all of West Ham’s moves go though Noble so it’s crucial that he remains central and available to his team mates. This position also allows him to perform his defensive duties correctly and provide cover for his defence.
[table id=103 /]
This is where it gets interesting. Despite their slight differences, there’s one area in which both these players excel – passing. Gerrard’s versatile and penetrative passing has been admired for years, and this season is no exception. But Noble is hot on his heels and when we look at the statistics below, it is fascinating to see how similar the distribution of both players is.
[table id=104 /]
The first thing we notice is that Gerrard has made more open-play passes than Noble. As we mentioned earlier, Liverpool’s possession per game percentage is higher than West Ham’s (by an average of 13.9%) and that extra time on the ball will account for some of Gerrard’s extra passes. Aside from this, both players’ accuracy and pass rates are remarkably similar.
Now we’re going to look at where the players are distributing their passes.
[table id=105 /]
Both players’ main objective is to get their teams moving up the pitch – neither passes the ball backwards unless necessary. They are constantly looking to transition into attack and this is evident when we look at the passes forward percentage above. When unable to advance the ball forwards the play is spread evenly out wide, right or left. This diversity in passing is key for playmaking midfielders.
Noble is impressing this season and as we have seen, it’s not just his ability on the ball, but in winning it back as well. He leads the Premier League for tackles made, and sits ninth for total passes. He is the heart of West ham’s midfield and considering he was playing in the Championship last season, his form so far this season has been exemplary.
Football In Numbers looks at football matches, tactics, players and teams across Europe with a focus on the Premier League.
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