West Ham must consider dropping 'captain fantastic'

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After the 3-0 rout at Tottenham, it seemed as if Sam Allardyce had found his 'plan B' at operating without any recognised out-an-out striker.

This seemed like the perfect recipe to accommodate the absence of Andy Carroll, who is yet to play this season after injuring his heel at the end of the 2012/2013 campaign.

However, knowing Sam as we do it is extremely likely that he will want to place a striker up top against Manchester City on Saturday. With Mladen Petric coming to full fitness, and the re-signing of Carlton Cole, could Kevin Nolan be dropped from the starting XI?

Nolan has been the bedrock of a team that has performed admirably since he joined the club in 2011. He was somewhat a surprise signing from Newcastle, dropping down a division in the process.

But, Big Sam got his man, and 'captain Kev' scored crucial goals during the successful Championship campaign, perhaps most notably against his former team mate Steve Harper when the Hammers visited Brighton. 

In his first year in the Premier League with the club, Nolan reached double figures for league goals, including a memorable final-day hat-trick against already-relegated Reading.

This season, he has not made such a quick-fire start, but still notched a sweeping right foot finish at home to Cardiff in the opening game of the season.

Yes Nolan is instrumental for West Ham, but usually Allardyce employs a 4-5-1 (4-2-3-1) formation, and so only three central midfielder spots are up for grabs.

Ravel Morrison has been in the form of his life, Mohamed Diame is a powerhouse in the centre of the park, and Mark Noble is a very influential part of the way the team plays.

Noble can be considered to be the orchestrator of many a move, having a much higher number of passes than any of his West Ham teammates this season. The question is, would Sam be willing to place either Diame or Morrison out wide to accommodate Nolan? 

He has already experimented with Diame out wide against Southampton, and that seemed to be a relatively successful venture. Diame provided a work horse performance to thwart Luke Shaw going forward, and was involved in the majority of the Hammers' attacking work. But would Ricardo Vaz Te, Stewart Downing or Matt Jarvis be worth dropping to play a centrally-minded player out wide? I don't think so.

That being said, Downing and Jarvis have both struggled for form, and it could be likely that one of them does not make the starting line-up. Considering this is a World Cup year, both Englishmen will be looking to improve their performances and will be desperate to play more often. The exclusion of Vaz Te is a possibility, but he might be pushed up-front after scoring against Tottenham.

Perhaps Morrison could be played out wide, but considering the way that the 20-year-old has been playing (he bagged another two goals for the England U21s this past week), I don't see why you would take him out of the middle at all. Morrison is a real threat going forward, and could take Nolan's position just behind the striker.

He possesses more pace, flair and has a knack of popping up in dangerous positions - just like his captain. If the ex-Manchester United youngster continues his run of form then I feel that a seat on the plane to Rio is definitely there for the taking.

Now it may be absurd to be suggesting that the man famed for his chicken celebration gets dropped, but no player should be guaranteed a starting spot if they are not performing as well as others.

But Nolan's leadership skills and knack for producing something out of the ordinary will probably see him included on Saturday. West Ham fans may remember that Nolan did score a wrongly-ruled offside goal against Manchester City last year - a similar performance by the Hammers would be considered a decent result.

My hunch is that Downing or Jarvis will be on the bench, with Diame being pushed out wide and Vaz Te going up-front.

But, now we know to expect something unexpected with Big Sam. It is safe to say that even if  Allardyce persists with this 'false 9' approach, when Andy Carroll returns the West Ham manager may find himself in a tricky situation once more. 

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Premier League
Kevin Nolan
West Ham United

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