Mark Noble, an ever-present in the West Ham starting XI for the best part of seven years, is set to return to the side against Burnley this weekend despite Sam Allardyce warning that his place is not guaranteed.
The 27-year-old’s appearance stats are outstanding. For a fully-committed central midfielder he has played so consistently, and injury free, for the most part of his career – in his ‘least’ capped season he still managed to play in an impressive 26 matches.
Noble has, however, missed the last two games with a calf injury and despite his absence the Hammers followed up an impressive performance at Manchester United with a comfortable 2-0 victory against QPR.
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Allardyce’s side have coped well throughout a tricky spell which has seen them without numerous key players and it is a testament to their new found strength-in-depth that they are still performing at a high level. This has led to the manager to send out a warning that no one is guaranteed a place in his starting lineup when key players return, including fan favourite Noble.
"Mark is training again today and has been training most of the week," Allardyce confirmed in the Express. "He should be fine and hopefully he can come back in and make the big contribution he has done during my time at West Ham.
"I don't know whether it is a 'given' that he gets in. The sooner you get all the players back, the bigger the decisions you have to make. That puts you in a better position, because you are going to start disappointing players on a more regular basis. The challenge is that you have to pick the right team and the right formation against the opposition you are playing.
"The players have to accept that disappointment if we are going to do better and wait for their time, then play at your best so that it is hard for me to leave you out again."
That said, with Cheikhou Kouyate still out injured it is likely Noble will be drafted straight back into the team alongside Alex Song to try and ensure they record their first back-to-back wins of the season at Turf Moor on Saturday.
Noble brings passion, drive, passing, tackling, possession and assurance from set pieces and it will be a major boost to have him on the pitch for what will be seen as a must-win.
Fight for place
However when Song and Kouyate are fit Noble could find himself truly having to fight for his place, they are both better all-rounders than him and more than capable of playing in his anchor role to great effect.
Although having Noble in the starting XI alongside Song and Kouyate will only make the three of them better as a knock-on effect of playing with each other. It also means that Kouyate and Song can play slightly more forward, which they have proved they can do with consummate ease and to devastating effect.
The pace and power they bring is well complimented by Noble’s tenacity and work rate in the middle of the park. But it is likely one of them could be sacrificed for a more attack minded player when they play the so-called ‘lesser’ sides.