Since I struggle to understand if Noble is serving a ban on Saturday or not, I've been mulling over how to play the midfield without him.
With the current squad he is, if not irreplaceable, so at least playing in a position where I see no natural stable alternative at the moment, and as you will understand from my next post, I hope we will not want one for a foreseeable future.
If Zola wants to keep the midfield diamond, and I don't mind as it has served us fine so far, I see 2 or 3 ways to do it.
1. Savio in as a straight swap.
Zola said in some interview that Savio would be suited to play slightly behind the the two top forwards in a 433 formation, and the top of the diamond spot can't be that far off. Savio has come on for Noble in the last 2 games, maybe indicating Zola's inclination.
However, that "top-diamond dog" is also the player that tries to make the opposition choose the kind of attack we prefer to defend against, putting the right kind of pressure on the right players, and that takes a good feeling for the game and the team. Savio may not be up to that side of the game quite yet.
2. Collison in for Noble and Savio in for Collison at the left.
Savio played most of his games in Brescia on the left in a 442 set up. It may be wise to keep as much as possible as familiar as possible for him. Collison will work well in that position I think, he shows that he is eager to help in the attack. Even as a winger he spends a lot of his time in the center and has played some sweet deep passes and gone for the break through as well. His work rate is brilliant and he may have the eye needed to cut off the right passing alternatives when they get possession. As a more or less trademark of a young player he does give the ball away a bit too much for my taste, but then so does Noble.
3. Zola chickens out and opts for stability considering the inexperienced team he has to choose from. So he plays Parker and Kovacs in the center of a non-diamond 4 man midfield. If the Swiss "pin-ball" Behrami (always working, always changing directions) is out this will be more likely.
As much as I want to see Kovacs, the two other versions feel more exciting. Kovacs may also have to be used as Neills understudy, making this a non starter.
Credit were the credit is due: what I now consider my own ideas were forged in discussions on the Swedish West Ham Fans forum. Dicks, if you are reading, you should have written this! :)