Friday, 11 October 2013

Player Spotlight: Mark Noble

Mark Noble
DOB: 08/05/1987
Position: Midfielder

West Ham United Career
Appearances: 256
Goals: 31

Debut: 24/08/2004 vs Southend United
Debut Goal: 06/01/2007 vs Brighton & Hove Albion

Mark Noble has been in and around the first time for so long now that he feels like a part of the furniture. It's hard to believe that he made his first team debut more than 9 years ago now, and harder still to believe that he is only 26 years old.

Our longest serving current player, Noble is actually fifth place in our list of all time Premier League appearances (170), behind John Moncur (175), Rob Green, Trevor Sinclair (both 177) and Steve Potts (204). His total of 256 club appearances also places him at number 47 in our list of record club appearances - and, should he reach 30 appearances, as he did last year, he will climb to 38th.

As can be the case with such long serving players, it's easy to forget or overlook the job that Noble does for the club. Some fans see him as a bit of a workhorse but little else. When Alou Diarra was signed last summer, Noble was the name many people put forward to drop out of the side - a call which could be heard again this season when Ravel Morrison returned from loan.

However, Noble does seem to gain recognition from outside the club. Dietmar Hamann recently tweeted that Noble was "a fine player" and "lovely to watch", while the Englishman also surprisingly appeared in the Capello Index Premier League XI and Dream Team last year.

So, which is correct? Is Noble a "fine player" worthy of a place in a Premier League XI, or is he merely a hard working mid table midfielder?

Importance to the Team
Last season, Noble started 25 of our 38 Premier League games. But what impact did his 13 game absence have on the team's performance? With Noble starting, the side earned 33 points - 1.3 per game. Without Noble in the first XI, however, we earned 13 points - 1.0 per game.

Not only did we earn less points, but we scored fewer goals (0.9 per game without, 1.3 per game with). However, we managed to concede less regularly without Noble in the side (1.4 per game with, 1.3 per game without).

It has always appeared to me that Noble has a strong influence on the way the side play football. With him in the side, we seem more capable of controlling and keeping possession, and are more likely to make use of the midfield while he is on the pitch.

On the whole, the stats support this. Last season, West Ham averaged 48% possession in games where Noble started, a figure that drops to 44% in games without Noble in the side. We also managed significantly more passes per game with Noble (339 per game, to 291 per game without).

The image below shows Noble's pass break down from 2012/13.

In terms of attacking play, we also managed to create slightly more chances per game with Noble in the side. We created 250 chances with Noble, a rate of 10 chances per game. Without him, we created at a rate of 9.3 chances per game.

However, the quality of the chance also seems to improve with Noble in the side. 13% of the chances created with Noble were converted into goals, while just 10% of chances ended in the back of the net without him starting.

However, there are some stats to suggest that our attacking play was slightly more adventurous without Noble in the starting eleven. We attempted to take on a defender 10 times per game with Noble starting; a figure that rises to 12.7 attempts without him.

We also attempted significantly more through balls in games that Noble did not start. In games with the Englishman starting, we attempted just two through balls, at a rate of one every 1,125 minutes. Without Noble, however, there were an attempted 9 through balls, at a rate of one ever 130 minutes.

Despite this, Noble was our second most creative player last season, creating 38 chances for team mates, behind only Matt Jarvis' 46. The image below shows a break down of the chances created by Noble last season.

Noble is also renowned for his defensive workrate, hassling and harrying opponents and breaking up play. This is reflected in the stats.

With Noble in the side, we attempted tackles more regularly than without him - 19.6 attempted per game, whilst 18.4 were attempted without him per game. We know that Noble had a significant impact on this figure, as our second most frequent tackler (75 tackles won last season) - only Mohamed Diamé (89) won more tackles than Noble.

His best tackling performance came in our 0-0 draw against Manchester City a year ago. Noble won all six of his attempted tackles - all within his own half. These are displayed in the image below.

What is obvious, is that Noble has a significant impact on all aspects of our game. Not only does he make more passes than any of his team mates, but he was also our second most creative player and had our second highest tackling success last season.

A Changing Role?
Something that has been regularly commented on this season, has been the idea that Noble's game is changing.

In recent years, Noble has moved from an attacking midfield player, to a deep lying defensive midfielder - an evolution that was exacerbated somewhat by Scott Parker's departure two years ago. This season though, Noble has appeared far more adventurous, often driving forward, creating chances, taking shots from range, and even taking on defenders.

So, is Noble's role in the side changing? The simple answer is: sort of.

Noble is definitely more adventurous in possession this season. He has already created 12 chances this season, at a rate of one chance created every 51 minutes - last season he was creating a chance once ever 56 minutes. His shot rate is still very low, with 0.6 shots attempted per game a slight improvement on 0.5 per game last season.

The biggest different though, is that Noble is running with the ball. Last season, he took on a man 18 times in 28 appearances, and was successful 11 times (61%). This means he was taking on defenders just 0.6 times per game, or once every 127 minutes.

This season it is a completely different story. In his 7 appearances so far, Noble has already attempted 16 take ons, and has actually matched his success record from last seasons 28 games, beating his man 11 times (69% success). This means Noble is now taking on his man 2.3 times per game, or once every 38 minutes.

In the 0-0 draw with Southampton last month, Noble attempted a whopping five take ons, with an 80% success rate, displayed in the image below.

This desire to drive with the ball has also meant that Noble is more frequently in an advanced position, and able to attempt killer passes. He's already attempted three through balls this season, more than the two he attempted in the whole of last season.

Despite these obvious changes, Noble's general positioning hasn't actually changed in the way we would expect. According to his action zones, Noble is actually involved in the defensive third of the pitch more regularly this season than last.

Last season, 41.6% of Noble's involvement came in the defensive third of the pitch, a figure that has risen to 45.9% this season. And, despite his apparent increase in involvement higher up the pitch, his involvement in the attacking third has actually fallen from 18.6% down to 15.6% so far this season.

However, these averages do not represent the full picture. Taking the away games against Tottenham Hotspur from last season (1-3 defeat) and this (3-0 victory) you can see that Noble's role in the two games was incredibly different.

Last season, 68.5% of Noble's involvement was in the defensive third, whilst just 2.7% of his play was in the attacking third. The image below shows Noble's action zones in the game last season.

This season, however, it was a completely different story.

Although he was still heavily involved in defensive work, Noble's involvement in the defensive third fell from 68.5% down to 55.4%. It was his involvement in the attacking third that surprised though, increasing from an anonymous 2.7% up to a massive 17.6%.

The image below shows Noble's action zones in last weekend 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane. You can clearly see what a contrast there is between the two performances.

Noble is definitely becoming more involved in our attacking play this season. But what are the reasons for this?

To me, the answer appears to be more about Noble's team mates than himself. Kevin Nolan has been playing in a far deeper role that we are used to seeing him, allowing Noble to cover to push forward and influence play further up the field.

The introduction of Ravel Morrison has also meant that Mohamed Diamé has been playing at right midfield. Last season, Diamé was the powerful midfield runner, driving the side up the field and launching counter attacks. His absence from the middle of the park has meant that Noble has taken up this role of driving on.

International Class?
So, does Noble deserve an international call? For some, his lack of pace would be a hindrance on the international scene. For others, his ability to both tackle and pass successfully and patiently would make him a perfect defensive midfielder for England.

Compared to some of the other recent call ups, he certainly seems a viable options. Since Roy Hodgson took over as England manager 18 months ago, he has called up 16 different central midfielders (not including Phil Jones), giving caps to 15 of them. Would Noble really be out of place among the players below?

When comparing Noble to these 16 midfielders in certain key areas, you can see that the former England Under 21 captain could feel slightly aggrieved at his lack of senior activity in comparison to some of his peers.

Offensively, Noble's form is up there among the best. The 12 chances created by Noble this season is the best of all of the midfielders Hodgson has called upon so far. Adam Lallana comes in second with 11 created, and Steven Gerrard (10) is the only other to have created 10+.

Noble also has the second highest number of successful take ons of the cohort (11), bested only by Ross Barkley's division high of 29. The pair are also the only two to have completed 10+ take ons in the Premier League this season - making Noble the only one to have created more than 10 chances, and completed more than 10 take ons.

The images below show the minutes per chance created, and minutes per successful take on. As you can see, Noble creates chances and beats a man with the second highest frequency of his competitors.

Defensively, Noble is not quite as successful as in attack, but is still one of the stand out performers.

Noble has made 12 successful tackles in the Premier League this season, with a success rate of 75%. Six of his England competitors have completed more tackles than him this season (Henderson (15), Cleverley (14), Lampard, Osman, Huddlestone, Gerrard (13 each)).

However, with experts suggesting that international football is becoming less about tackling with every international break, the emphasis of a modern defensive midfielder is more about intercepting than tackling.

In that arena, Noble is again one of the top performers. He has made 14 interceptions so far this season, suggesting the West Ham man has a fantastic knack for reading the game, and boasts impressive positioning when holding. His record of 14 interceptions is equaled by Everton's Leon Osman, but is dwarfed by academy graduate Michael Carrick's massive 31.

The two images below shows the number of minutes per successful tackle, and per interception. Noble's rate of one successful tackle every 51 minutes places him 11th of his competitors, and is slightly above the average of 50 minutes. However, he is the third most frequent interceptor, with one interception every 44 minutes so far this season.

The final area for comparison, is in possession. Noble is comfortably among the best passers at West Ham - boasting a success rate of 82%, and making more passes than all of his teammates. However, when it comes to a comparison with his international peers, Noble doesn't come out as favorably

Noble's completion rate of 82% is below the average of 85%, and is the third worst pass completion rate of all Hodgson's midfielders, beating just Huddlestone (78%) and Lallana (77%).

Noble also makes passes less frequently than the average England midfielder. So far in the Premier League this season, the 17 men have made a pass on average once every 1.6 minutes. Noble's 347 at a rate of one every 1.8 minutes places him at the 11th most regular passer of the group. Michael Carrick again leads the way, playing a pass every 1.1 minutes.

The images below show the pass completion rate of the group, and the minutes per pass attempted by each player. As you can see, Noble fares less favourably in this area than offensively or defensively, although his records of 82% completed and one pass every 1.8 minutes are still very respectable scores.

To me, it seems that Mark Noble wouldn't be out of place in an England squad. His form this season has rocketed him to the top of the creation and take on charts, and his defensive work is among the best of his peers.

His comparatively low pass completion rate would be very likely improve in the slower, international game too, making Noble one of the outstanding all round English midfielders around.

When the talismanic Scott Parker moved North 26 months ago, we were all upset. Parker had been our Hammer of the Year for the previous three seasons, and was one of the few bright lights of our relegation season.

That transfer thrust Mark Noble into the spotlight, and, in my opinion at least, he has more than delivered.

What's not to like about Mark Noble? He could score more goals, but I'll forgive him that if he carries on playing the way he has been.

He can defend. He can create. He is good in possession. He works exceptionally hard. He is an academy graduate. He is loyal. 

He is one of us. And we should count ourselves lucky to have him.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I love the way you interpret the stats and explain the way they affect our play. Stats can be boring, these are anything but. Nice one. Also great to see Nobes get some well deserved recognition. I got here via WHTID but it won't be my last visit!

    I got here via WHTID but it won't be my last visit!