After years of speculation, Declan Rice finally looks likely to depart West Ham this summer. Manchester City and Arsenal are battling for the midfielder. But what makes the Englishman so important to both teams? Is he a world-class player or overhyped? What could be Guardiola’s secret plan and why is he the player Arteta needs to win the Premier League? Let’s analyse it.
So, what is Rice’s role? The catch-all term would be deep-lying playmaker, probably. During his time at West Ham and for England he’s generally played in a double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1 or as the deepest player in a midfield three.
Rice’s ability to progress the ball has improved considerably in recent seasons. In the early part of his career, when the hype train began, he was criticised for being too safe in possession. Rice has a range of different passes in his arsenal, from raking long balls with either foot which find West Ham’s wingers, to intricate through balls to the frontman. Rice is quick to switch the play when given the opportunity. Only Matheus Nunes and Joao Palinha attempted fewer passes per switch of play among central and defensive midfielders in the Premier League last season.
Just as his passing has improved over the years, Rice is now far more adept at bursting past the opposition with the ball at his feet. This season registered more than 2 progressive carries per 90 minutes. There has been a similar improvement in the amount of take-ons Rice has completed, as well as the number of carries into the final third he’s managed.
Rice started life as a centre-back – and it shows. His off-the-ball awareness is simply outstanding and you will not be surprised to learn that no player completed more interceptions in this Premier League season. Rice has also ranked in the top ten for most tackles, while his aerial prowess is also unmatched among players who play a similar role in Europe. Working from such a solid defensive base means that he could easily slot into the backline again if required and that very well be Guardiola’s main reason to sign him.
Rice might just be adding goals to his game too. He has now netted five times in successive seasons, a impressive stat considering how deep he plays.
He is a complete midfielder and still only 24 years old. Now he faces the most important decision of his career, not only his next club but also the player he wants to be in the future.