He might be 33 years old, but Pablo Zabaleta proved on Saturday that West Ham United could be worse off without him when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Having donned the captain’s armband in the Hammers’ previous three Premier League encounters, midfielder Mark Noble led the side into battle at Newcastle United on Saturday, but the Argentinian was leading by example at the back as they claimed an impressive 3-0 win at St James’s Park.
The Magpies had been on a three match unbeaten run, heading into the encounter, but a strong, collective defensive unit weathered an early storm to set up Manuel Pellegrini’s men to pounce when they got the chance.
Zabaleta’s presence was certainly felt by Salomon Rondon when the striker looked in for all money to score and the right-back made an important tackle on the stroke of halftime to deny Newcastle an opening goal.
At that stage West Ham were leading 1-0 and could a goal have changed the tied in favour of the home side but Zabaleta showed his resilience and experience to act in the moment.
Newcastle never really looked that threatening again, despite controlling most of the possession, as they couldn’t find a way through the West Ham defence.
The win was the East London club’s fourth of the season but was as composed and solid as they have been on the road this season.
The result and the performance though signalled the need of the club to have someone like Zabaleta in the team, while Pellegrini tries to find his best starting XI.
Without him the building of a strong first-team won’t be able to take shape as the team would be lacking leadership in defence.
Having spent nine years at Manchester City, where he was part of the rise of the club to Premier League champions in 2012 and 2014, not many players in the world could do a better job than helping a transitional phase, by being involved on the pitch, than Zabaleta.
A one year extension on his current deal could prove pivotal in how Pellegrini develops the squad and should the West Ham ownership take initiative in the matter and keep him at the London Stadium.