Slaven Bilić revealed yesterday that Mark Noble would not be playing in the upcoming match against Leicester City after re-aggravated an injury during last week’s match against AFC Bournemouth that he suffered against Chelsea. The West Ham captain has only missed two Premier League matches for the Hammers this season, and Bilić said he told Noble “I left it to him, his decision whether to go somewhere for a week and come back as strong as he was. I have no worries about Mark”.
Noble has come under criticism earlier the season, as his form has dipped in previous weeks. This dip in form could be a result of injury, of course, but Noble hasn’t blamed injury as an excuse for his troubles. He did, however, hit back at critics earlier this week who called for him to be dropped.
Noble walked back some of the criticism that he leveled at fans saying “I want to clarify some comments I made in an interview I gave at the start of the week, as I feel they didn’t come across as I wanted them to. I was asked about the criticism that has been leveled at me and the team this season, and I just want to make it clear that I wasn't digging out West Ham United fans in general, because I can assure you if I wasn’t playing I’d be sitting with them.”
While it’s nice that a person in the PR department at West Ham “helped” Noble make nice and “clarify” the things he said to Sky Sports News, the point remains that Noble has not been in good form most of the season. In years past, fans would overlook his lack of natural talent because of his commitment to the cause, running all match, and generally bleeding Claret and Blue. However, this season, while his commitment is there, the years of playing professional football have not been kind to him, and for a player who has always relied on endurance rather than skill, getting older only means getting worse.
The problem with Noble taking the Leicester City game off, however, is two fold. The cacophony of calls from West Ham fans for Bilić to start a proper right back has gotten to be deafening at this point in the season, but since Bilić seems to not trust Sam Byram, there is no guarantee that Cheikhou Kouyaté will line-up in the centre of midfield and that Byram will make an appearance in the side. Rather, it is entirely logical that Bilić could put Lanzini in at central midfield and start Robert Snodgrass on the left with Feghouli on the right. Or Bilić could start Ayew on the left instead of Snodgrass in that formation.
It is not unreasonable to assume that Byram would make an appearance, after all, he has seemed to play well when included in the team, but if the fans get their wish and Kouyaté goes to the middle with Pedro Obiang and Byram starts at right back and West Ham goes out and gets thumped by suddenly in-form Leicester City team, wouldn’t that pretty much give Bilić every reason to go back to what he’s done before? This match would’ve been a lot easier if it was played a month ago when Leicester looked dazed and confused on the pitch, but instead the Foxes are coming to London on the high of reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League by beating La Liga title chasers Sevilla. So it is very easy to see the team fall flat on Saturday and for Noble to get inserted right back into the lineup and Kouyaté go back to asking for directions out on the right of the pitch, while Sam Byram continues to work a groove into his seat on the bench.