Declan Rice has become one of West Ham’s most important players over the last couple of seasons, making the defensive midfield spot his own.
Originally a centre-back by trade, Declan Rice was given his debut at West Ham by former manager Slaven Bilic. In his debut against Burnley, Rice was subbed on into the midfield, so he had the comfort of the defence behind him.
This was a trend of Bilic’s. The Croatian saw young centre-backs capable of playing in the midfield in their early career. Bilic did the same with Reece Oxford when he made his debut against Arsenal. Rice’s career has taken a much different trajectory to Oxford, who now finds himself in Germany.
After Rice established himself in the first-team squad, he has played in two positions for the first-team, centre-back and defensive midfield. While capable at centre-back, Rice has proved to lack the same confidence in the defence compared to when he plays in midfield.
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This lack of confidence was shown when his error led to Arsenal scoring a goal against the Hammers at the Emirates. With the scores tied at 1-1, Rice ducked underneath an Aaron Ramsey cross, rather than head it away, leading to the ball going straight in and giving the Gunners the lead.
David Moyes was in his first stint as West Ham manager and hung the youngster out to dry after the game.
“The young player makes a really poor mistake on the second goal. I hope he learns from it because he’s got big potential, but I think it really flattened the team.” Moyes said after the game.
Since that day Rice has not looked back and has been moved up the pitch into midfield. (Except to cover for injury) This positional change has seen the Englishman establish himself as one of the best in the league.
Rice’s rise has been meteoric, not only he is brilliant at shielding the defence but is showing signs of being a decent attacker. The 21-year-old has scored three times for the Hammers in the Premier League, including a rocket against Watford during ‘Project Restart‘ this goal was arguably the one that kept the Hammers in the Premier League.
Despite his clear brilliance in the midfield which has seen Rice become a regular in Gareth Southgate‘s England side, he can still envisage his long-term place in the defence.
“I’ve now had two full seasons at West Ham playing in the middle. In every game that I’ve played so far for England, I’ve played in the middle. So, for sure, my short-term future, of course, I see myself playing in the middle. I love playing there.”
“It’s always an honour to be picked by Gareth to play in that position. I’ve still got so much to learn. I always need to improve on stuff, for sure. I see myself as a holding midfielder for the near future, but I’ll never rule myself out of going in a back three or four.“ Rice on his long-term position.
From West Ham’s perspective, there is a hope that Rice will remain in the midfield. Especially after building a solid partnership with Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek. The two midfielders are crucial to the club’s success this season as their energy levels, and natural ability see them contribute all over the pitch.
Though with Angelo Ogbonna reaching his twilight years, Rice could soon be back in the defence as the club try to find a replacement.