When the rumour first floated around Twitter that Kevin Nolan was injured and would be out for a few weeks I don’t think I was alone in dismissing it as nonsense, however for once a Twitter rumour was actually accurate and the end result was Mauro Zarate giving El Capitano himself a lesson in how to play the number 10 role.
Whilst when Nolan plays behind the striker he’s forever on the periphery of the game, Zarate however is at the hub: he drops deep, links play, is able to beat people with a deft drop of the shoulder and his mobility and movement bring a completely different dimension to the position.
Kevin Nolan had two fantastic seasons playing in the hole; his first two at West Ham yielded 23 goals from that position, last season however whilst Nolan did wind up being our top scorer his goals came in a glut of about 7/8 games and with the exception of that run his contribution was minimal at best.
The performance put in by Zarate at Selhurst was every inch what the modern day number 10 should be about and his goal was something special, surely the most spectacular scored in the league so far this season.
It’s difficult to see when Nolan recovers from his shoulder injury how he will win his place back in the team, Nolan and Big Sam go way back and certainly in the past its been made clear that unless Nolan is unavailable, regardless of form he is an instant starter in Sam’s book. However at 32 years of age and with younger more talented players who can play in his position in Enner Valencia, Ravel Morrison and of course Zarate can the captain still be the first name on the team sheet?
Nolan’s incarnation of the number 10 role is very much based on not really being involved in the game but popping up at the right place at the right time and grabbing a goal every now and then, and for his first two seasons it worked and worked very well. In many ways Nolan was the perfect character to lead us back into the Premier League and keep us up in the first two seasons.
However we’re now in our 3rd season back, the squad is undeniably stronger and that was epitomised by the performance put in by Mauro Zarate in Nolan’s absence; a performance full of verve, energy, sharpness and clever movement.
After Zarate’s master class can we really go back to Nolan’s by comparison ineffective performances?
No, not if this team is going to continue to evolve.