Mark Noble is relishing the freedom he has been given by manager Manuel Pellegrini.
The West Ham United captain may be 32 and a veteran of nearly 500 senior appearances, but the more-advanced position he has been asked to fill has, by his own admission, given him a new lease of life on the pitch.
Statistics prove Noble's effectiveness further up the pitch has grown since the 2017/18 season. Then, he averaged 26.61 passes in the opponents' half, completing 81.9% of them and making 6.10 passes per game in the final third, completing 70.9 per cent of them.
Those figures rose markedly last term, while in eight appearances so far in 2019/20, he has attempted 33.29 passes per game in the opponents' half, completing 85.8% of them, and made 10.92 passes per game in the final third, completing 78 per cent of them. None of this has happened by chance.
Speaking to his former Hammers teammate Joe Cole for BT Sport, who will broadcast Saturday’s lunchtime Premier League fixture at Everton live from 12noon, Noble spoke with the enthusiasm of a young professional about his new position.
I think the balance works well because you’ve got Dec as a sitter and you’ve got me that understands how to defend in that position to help Dec
“I’m playing in a position where I’m one of the two in front of Dec (Declan Rice),” he began. “I’m really enjoying it because it’s a lot more positional play. Like you stay in your position and work from your position.
“Declan’s one of the best in the country, if not Europe, at the minute in that holding midfield role. I’ve played there now for most, well all of last season and all the games I’ve played this season. It’s just learning. I’ve played there a lot, a little bit advanced of the holding midfield player, but when you’ve got good players around you it makes things a lot easier and they understand and give the ball to you at the right time.”
Noble has been a central part of the attacking philosophy Pellegrini has instilled since his appointment 16 months ago.
With the likes of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko, Pablo Fornals and Jack Wilshere also in the squad, West Ham are playing technical football that can, on its day, tear opposing teams apart.
“Obviously it’s gone really well,” Noble continued. “We’ve started really well. We’ve obviously had a couple of setbacks but all in all if you look at the goal we scored against [Crystal] Palace last week it was a proper football goal. That’s the way football should be played.
“The front four or five, you go and enjoy yourself. Go and play. As long as you defend when we haven’t got the ball, when you get it he doesn’t tell you what to do. He’s saying: ‘I’m relying on you from the positional play and what we do in training to go and express yourselves’.
“When you’ve got players like Felipe and Yarmolenko, Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini, you can’t tell those players what to do. You can in a team shape way, but when they get the ball they’re free and I think that’s what you’ve seen.
“I think the balance works well because you’ve got Dec as a sitter and you’ve got me that understands how to defend in that position to help Dec.
“Over the last 18 months that I’ve had with Manuel, I’ve played whenever I’ve been fit. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
West Ham United's Premier League fixture at Everton will be broadcast live in the UK by BT Sport 1, with coverage starting at 12noon.