After a strong Euro 2020 campaign with England, West Ham’s Declan Rice has started the 2021/22 Premier League season in fine form.
The 22 year old captain (in Mark Nobles absence) has led the East London side to 7th place and top of their Europa League group.
Rice has been recognised for good work in the defensive aspect of midfield for some time now.
Great anticipation, tackling and bravery are just some of the England international’s stand out qualities which has cemented his place in midfield for both England and West Ham.
But throughout last season and even more so at the start of the 21/22 campaign he has started to transition into more of a “box-to-box midfielder”.
Rice leads the way for carries into the final third (20) as well as passes into the final third (49) among Premier League central midfielders so far this season.
This is despite comments recently from Sky Sports pundits Graeme Souness and Gary Neville who naively claimed Rice would be better as a center back.
However, speak to any West Ham fan and they will tell you just how bad of an opinion that is as his work in midfield was key to the Hammers record 6th place finish and Englands run to the Euro 2020 final.
Adding end product?
With a goal and two assists to his name already this season “the Basmati Busquets” is showing he has much more to his game than just breaking up play.
End product is something Rice has particularly lacked so far in his early, yet experienced, career.
In what was certainly a successful 2020/21 season for Rice, he only managed two goals and an assist, with one goal being from the penalty spot.
Whether that’s due to a limited role, or simply poor execution in the final third, this is clearly something he is eager to put behind him.
His outstanding goal against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League is a brilliant example of what Rice’s game has always consisted of, but also what he’s added to his game.
The interception before the half way line is something you have come to expect with Rice, and the run is something we’ve seen glimpses of, especially last season.
However it is the eye for goal, the cutting edge as some would call it, that particularly stands out.
The finish – hard and low through the keepers legs on his weaker side is a sign of what’s to come from Rice who has previously spoke of his desire to add goals to his game.
How can this benefit England?
Rice is yet to show his attacking prowess on a consistent basis for the Three Lions, only showing glimpses of what he’s capable of on the biggest stage.
The closest we have seen of Rice thriving a box-to-box role for his nation was in the Euro 2020 final against Italy in which he received many plaudits for his direct runs through midfield.
Many fans were confused at Southgate’s decision to sub the energetic midfielder who was arguably the best player on the pitch that day.
Yet rather than dwelling on it, fans should be encouraged by what Rice showed in the final as there will undoubtedly be more to come from the West Ham man.
With Kalvin Phillips his partner in midfield, one could go forward whilst the other covers the space behind, much Rice’s relationship at club level with Tomas Soucek.
Rice’s leadership, energy (on and off the field) and technical ability at such a young age gives England and West Ham fans alike much to look forward to.
Tactically he can give Southgate the option of either dropping into a back 3 in possession (with Rice part of this) or givng Rice more freedom and progressing the ball through a back 4.
In a position which previously held doubt Rice, Phillips and Bellingham all at a young age in midfield makes it a very exciting time to be an English football fan.