With each passing week the need for an out-and-out holding midfielder , preferably with an eye for a pass, is being emphasized. While the McFred pivot does work in the big games when we have less of the ball; in the games where teams sit back expecting us to attack, we either can’t breach their defences or we overcommit and the opposition hit us on the counter which we fail to stop.
The McFred pivot exists to cover the fallacies of both the players; its essentially two players occupying a single role, which leaves us with a singular point of creativity in midfield, our talisman Bruno Fernandes, who the oppostion can man mark out of the game.
Enter Basmati Busquets; the prodigiously talented West Ham midfielder has become a club favorite and with every match, he is becoming a legend in East London. Especially with the modern game being all about pace and/or attacking skills, his deals with his ability to defend and control the backline of the midfield.
Rice has been pivotal in West Ham being able to compete in the top flight. There are only a handul Premier league players who play the position really well; namely Fernandinho, Fabinho, Kante, Ndidi. This is what makes Rice so special, with his age and style of play, he is going to be a rarity for years to come.
Declan started his career at the Chelsea academy and switched his allegiances to West Ham in 2013 and has since risen through the ranks at West Ham, to establish himself at the heart of their midfield. However, it is important to note that he started his West Ham senior career as a centre back.
In terms of Statistics of the 19/20 season, Rice is one of the very best defensive midfielders in the league. He ranks top for the most tackles won (70), not just in the English top flight, but in Europe’s top 5 leagues. He is quick to spot out potential threats and dangerous progressions of attack. Consequently, he reacts aggressively in order to eliminate dangers in his zone. He is also very involved in the team’s press, which was all the more surprising given that West Ham had one of the worst pressure success rates in the league.
Nowadays, West Ham start with Tomas Soucek and vice-captain, Declan Rice, in the centre of the pitch, but it is Rice who usually takes a central position wandering in and around the central area. This facilitates Soucek to have more freedom; allowing him to play his preferred box-to-box role.
Rice’s positional awareness is credited by the fact that he is an excellent interceptor of the ball too, constantly focused on cutting out passing lanes.. His excellent defensive attributes also owes much to the fact that he started his career as a centre back and slowly transitioned into a defensive midfielder and has now made that position his own.
Rice has a calmness that he brings along with his defending. He is someone who is always aware of what is happening around him, which allows him to take up a position before he decides to go in for a tackle or an interception. His focus is on zonal marking rather than man marking; he takes up a zone and continues to jog around the zone to cut any pass lines that could emerge for the opponent player holding the ball.
Rice is usually stationed in the centre and rarely drives ahead with the ball at his feet. He can start as a lone defensive midfielder or in a pivot along with Soucek, whilst his role is still to reduce the passes through the middle. Doing this causes the opponents to go direct or go through the wide areas to attack.
He also has excellent spatial awareness. This allows him to intercept a high number of passes and put tackles in whenever needed.
Declan Rice’s is right-footed, but he is comfortable using both feet to make a pass. Rice is someone who keeps wandering the pitch until he finds the space to receive a pass. If we keep a close eye on him we can observe, he looks at his right and left side almost every second of the game to constantly stay aware of who is around him and how far they are, just like when he does this while he defends. This also allows him to constantly evade his markers and find space to receive a pass.
One aspect of his passing that Rice needs to improve is when he is being pressured by an opponent. This is also reflective of the fact that he is very direct in his passing and why he loves to find space around him. This is an important attribute for any midfielder as they are constantly going to be under pressure from the opponent. From the below graph we can understand he isn’t press resistant at all.
Rice isn’t known for his extravagant, out of the world passes. Instead he prefers to quickly get done with the pass and move to the next phase of play. Even when he has the option to drive forward, he prefers to pass it to the nearest available option and that is why he is among those players who passes rarely get intercepted.
When it comes to progressive passing, Rice is way behind the peers. Even though it is slightly unfair to judge Rice based on this ,as he is rarely is in advanced positions of midfield, his 3.10 progressive passes per 90 minutes is not a good sign and he needs to improve on that aspect.
Even though Rice does possess some good qualities of passing, he can certainly be better. His vision isn’t anything stellar either. Now this doesn’t mean he cannot improve. His playstyle and position has a lot to do with this, he doesn’t dwell on the ball for long. He is there in the middle of the park to intercept or clear the ball and when it comes to holding the ball, he is just there to quickly recycle it for his teammates.
Rice is minimally involved in the buildup aspect of the game. The reason is quite straightforward too, his role is to stay at the base of midfield and not be too involved in attacks. His shot creating actions of 0.86 per 90 and his xA of 0.04 is among the lowest in the league.
He isn’t the best of carriers and he doesn’t carry with great frequency either, but whenever he does it yields a positive result more often than not. With this being said, he is still more risk averse than a risk taker. The graph below shows Declan Rice’s ball progression ability.
Now the above analysis is a comparison of Rice with other deep-lying midfielders, who have played for a minimum of 1000 minutes, for the 19/20 season. It can be observed that he ranks quite well across a plethora of categories.
Beginning with his ability to dribble and carry the ball, Rice has exceptional quality on the ball when compared with other defensive midfielders, completing 77.4% of his attempted dribbles and averaging 242.5 yards of distance carried per 90. Rice ranks 15th in terms of dribble success and 22nd in terms of aerial duels won in the Premier League.
When comparing his defensive measures; his aerial ability, interceptions, tackles, tackles won, and recoveries all rank within the top 10 in the league. Rice is aggressive in the air and capable of winning many aerial balls with an impressive 60.7% success rate. This makes him an asset in both the defending and attacking aspect of the game.
His ability to read the game well is proven by having the 7th most interceptions made. Furthermore, he is a strong tackler, ranking 5th for tackles won and 8th for tackles attempted. In this facet, Rice shows his aggressive nature as a defender while highlighting his astute ability to win the ball off opposition players.
Rice can assist in pushing further up the field with his physical frame to pressure opponents. However, this is not a strong aspect of his game, as his successful pressure rate stands at 28.9% which stands at 24th in the league.
Last season, Rice averaged 11.8 recoveries per 90, and while this number is not objectively high in rankings (23rd in the league) in a more attacking side which pushes further up the field, it’s likely this metric would increase as well as his pressures.
At 21 years of age, Rice is a well-built hardworking unit in the centre of the pitch who has not only solidified his status as one of the best ball-winners in Europe, but also as a leader, having grown into the captain’s role at West Ham. His defensive ability is close to being one of the very best in the league. He is a workhorse off the ball. If you are looking for a box-to-box or someone who can build up your attack, Rice isn’t your guy. He loves to keep things simple and this approach of his has been very reflective in his numbers and could only go upward with better players around him.
With all these Pogba exit rumors, the tabloids are choke full of players who can replace him. One of the mentioned players is Declan Rice of West Ham. Declan should NEVER be the player to replace him, rather he should be the player that compliments Pogba. A midfield three of Bruno, Pogba and Rice would be a dream, that is if Pogba decides to stay.
A lot of whether we can get Rice hinges on Lingard, who with every passing week is proving he is a legitimate reincarnation of Ronaldinho, and whether they qualify for the champions league. It would be a win-win for West Ham to get a quality attacking mid and us to get a defending mid. None of this might transpire, but a man can dream can’t he?