Declan Rice became West Ham’s complete midfielder through sweeping, carrying the ball and tackling | Football news
Manuel Lanzini’s arrival at Crystal Palace was special, but Declan Rice’s role in West Ham’s second goal requires further consideration. His intelligent analysis helps explain why he has become one of the Premier League’s most complete midfielders.
When the ball was played into Jarrod Bowen’s feet, Rice’s first glance was behind him. There was a second glance forward to check which space he needed to run into. As Bowen passed him, a third forward glance ensued before he even received the ball.
Once Rice had taken possession and was running straight for the Palace goal, her head was not lowered. Even then – especially then – he was scanning. There were three more glances at Lanzini, building an image as the attack developed before finally playing the pass.
Geir Jordet has been analyzing the importance of scanning since 1998, among the first to actually do it. A professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, he did his thesis and doctorate on the role of vision, perception and anticipation in high-level performance.
“The scan doesn’t tell us everything,” Jordet said Air sports this summer, “but it gives us a little bit of the process of realizing the vision of these players. It’s a glimpse of the extent to which these players are aware of their surroundings.”
Studies suggest that the average player scans about three or four times within 10 seconds before receiving the ball. In this brief stint of the game at Selhurst Park on New Years Day, Rice hiked six times in just eight seconds.
With Rice, it’s not just the quantity of her sweep but the quality of it. “Don’t just watch but perceive what’s going on,” says Jordet. “And ultimately use it to guide your actions.” Rice recognized where the space was and he also picked the right pass to make.
He knows all about digitization – citing it as an example of what he admires in his English teammate and friend Mason Mount. Such an understanding of what is needed to be successful is only part of the reason Rice is emerging as such an exceptional actor.
He has exceeded already high expectations this season with West Ham, improving once again and inspiring a team that are now fifth in the standings. A player once considered a long-term defender is now showing that there is so much more to his game.
“I’m not just a midfielder anymore. I’ve always been labeled as the one who is right in front of the bottom four, now I really want to see myself as a box-to-box player where I can go up and down and create things as well as coming back and helping the team too. “
West Ham’s second goal was a fine example of the determined ball carrying Rice added to his game. Statistics show his number of runs per 90 minutes has increased year on year in his five seasons as a Premier League player.
He ranks second for running backs by midfielders in the competition this season, behind Bernardo Silva. The Manchester City man is a very different player, recalling that these are not the numbers for a traditional midfielder. But Rice also does that side.
He’s in the top five for tackling midfielders and tops the list for interceptions. He gets the ball back for his side more often than anyone in his position – Rodri is second – and there was a good example of that in the preparation for the opener at Palace.
Rice pierced the ball off Vladimir Coufal – highlighting his passing range – but was also in the right place to retrieve it when Bowen was dispossessed. As he swept, he extended the room to Ben Johnson who fed Saïd Benrahma. He crossed. Michail Antonio scored.
These are just two of the 521 passes Rice has completed in the opposition’s half this season, placing among the best. His passes are neat and his range is growing, although David Moyes has identified him as a facet of his game that he can improve upon.
The West Ham boss recently suggested the examples of Rodri, Jorginho and Frenkie de Jong as good scorers for Rice, while stressing that he is a different type of player. Rice can pass the ball but frankly, even if he couldn’t, he would be a top player.
“If you look at the other side of the game, Declan is as good as anyone I know at picking up the ball and going around the pitch,” Moyes said. “I can’t really think of a lot of other midfielders like Declan in that mold really.”
A tackler and a ball carrier, someone who can get it back and then take responsibility for what to do with it next. That is enough to put him in the top tier of European midfielders and, given that Rice will only be 23 on January 14, further progress can be expected.
When Jordet first analyzed the Premier League sweep many years ago, his findings were revealing. “In this sample, numbers one and two were Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. They were the two best scanners. That tells you something.”
West Ham supporters won’t like the idea of Rice following the exact same career path as Lampard, but they can be sure he’s on a similar path. In fact, it only takes a glance to see that he becomes the complete midfielder.