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Talking Tactics

Rice evolving from defensive specialist into top all-rounder

Adrian Clarke 6 Feb 2022
Hublot Rising Stars: Declan Rice

Adrian Clarke explains how the West Ham midfielder has grown into one of the League's star performers

Adrian Clarke assesses five contenders for the 2021/22 Hublot Young Player of the Season award.

Declan Rice (WHU)

The West Ham United midfielder has undoubtedly been one of the Premier League’s star performers this season and is set to be an influential figure against Watford on Tuesday.

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Rice was in scintillating form during the early part of the campaign, supplying three assists and scoring once before the end of October.

While he has only delivered one assist since, the 23-year-old has continued to impress with a series of assured and commanding displays.

No longer solely a defensive midfield specialist, he should now be considered a genuine all-rounder.

Hublot Young Player contenders

The accuracy of Rice’s distribution continues to improve.

This season, 90.7 per cent of his passes have been successful. That makes him the second-most reliable player in the league behind Manchester City’s Rodri (92.1 per cent).

It continues a steady increase after his 86 per cent pass accuracy in 2019/20 and his 88 per cent figure last term.

While long spells of possession are not a priority for manager David Moyes, the control Rice provides has helped West Ham improve their average possession to 47 per cent this season, a four per cent rise.

Full of confidence, the England international is also making more forward passes than he has previously, bringing attacking team-mates into the game as often as possible.

Rice's creative influence 2021/22
  Total PL rank (midfielders)
Pass accuracy* 90.7% 2nd
Long pass accuracy** 68.9% 3rd
Forward passes 351 4th
Succ. passes in opp. half 604 5th

*minimum 1,000mins; **minimum 50 long passes

Rice has become braver in a high-flying West Ham side, mixing up his positional play more frequently.

While he will primarily operate at the base of the midfield, he will sometimes drive forward into the opposition half.

One sure-fire sign of his progress is the way he glides past opponents with the ball.

Keen to drive beyond his markers with power and a burst of pace, he has completed 35 dribbles this term, compared with 29 in the whole of last season.

In fact, the only non-strikers to have completed more take-ons are Dwight McNeil (40) and Bernardo Silva (39).

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Despite adding more variety to his game, Rice is still one of the most proficient defensive pivots in the league.

No midfielder makes more interceptions or blocks, and he consistently recovers possession thanks to his mobility, aggression and expert reading of the play.

He offers a top-class layer of protection in front of his back four alongside his excellent midfield partner, Tomas Soucek.

 Rice's defensive influence
2021/22 Total PL rank (midfielders)
Interceptions 40 1st
Blocks 12 1st
Possession won 179 2nd
Duels won 123 3rd
Tackles won 28 8th

At 23, Rice is now approaching what should be the prime years of his career.

And having once again set remarkably high standards this season for a young player, his future looks exceptionally bright.

Also in this series

Part 1: Smith Rowe driving Arsenal on with surging runs and goals
Part 2: Gallagher already one of the best box-to-box midfielders 
Part 4: All-round skills make Dennis Watford's main man
Part 5: Ramsey has perfect mentor as he develops his end product

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