Talking Tactics

Rice impressing with 'clean' art of defending

Adrian Clarke 4 May 2018
Declan Rice, West Ham

West Ham teenager has become one of the league's most efficient defenders ahead of Leicester City match, writes Adrian Clarke

West Ham United have a long-standing tradition of developing composed central defenders, and Declan Rice is the latest to emerge.

The 19-year-old's first two starts of the season came in a holding midfield role, but since David Moyes took charge he has mainly been deployed as one of three centre-backs.

It is a role in which he has excelled.

For a young player, Rice's decision-making is first-class.

Clean defender

A fine reader of the game with outstanding positional awareness, the West Ham Academy graduate is able to judge key ball-winning moments wonderfully well.

The stats reflect his expert timing.

Of all the central defenders to have played more than 1,000 minutes of Premier League football this season, Rice has made the fourth-fewest fouls per 90 minutes.

Conceding only five free-kicks in total this campaign, he is the ninth "cleanest" defender and is 12th on the list for all players.

Fewest fouls by central defenders*
  Mins played Fouls Mins/foul
Mamadou Sakho 1420 3 473.3
Phil Jagielka 1895 8 236.9
Andreas Christensen 1890 8 236.3
Declan Rice 1153 5 230.6
John Stones 1143 5 228.6

*of players to have played a minimum of 1,000 minutes 

Cool and versatile

Rice has only made 12 starts, but some of his most impressive performances have come in challenging away matches.

In trips to Manchester City (2-1 loss), Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea (both 1-1) the Irishman earned rave reviews for the quality of his defending and his calm distribution.

Making 20 clearances, six interceptions and four close-range blocks across those three high-profile encounters, Rice was decisive and self-assured.

Moyes has also recognised his versatility.

Equally comfortable on the left of a three-man rearguard (three starts), in central midfield (two starts) or most recently on the right side of a back three (seven starts), he can slot into various positions.

Rice has also regularly been used as a substitute in midfield and at full-back, depending on whether his manager is looking to switch systems or protect a lead. He is a very adaptable squad member.

An expert tackler

Despite conceding few fouls, Rice wins the ball back from tackles more than any other West Ham central defender.

Happy to get tight to forwards and engage them in physical contact, the Republic of Ireland international is not afraid to step forward when there is a chance to win back possession.

He wins twice as many tackles as any of Moyes’s other centre-backs. 

West Ham centre-backs per 90 mins*
 2017/18 Tackles won Blocks Clearances Interceptions
Rice 1.64 1.01 4.61 1.80
Cresswell 0.67 0.45 3.08 1.35
Reid 0.55 0.85 6.13 1.33
Fonte 0.78 1.17 4.70 1.83
Collins 0.77 0.86 10.14 1.37
Ogbonna 0.79 0.83 6.0 1.79

*rotate to view in full on mobile devices

It has been a difficult few weeks for the Hammers, and for Rice, who has been involved in incidents leading to the concession of recent goals. But the teenager has been such a shining light this term that Moyes has confirmed plans to sign him to a new deal.

If West Ham are to ease their relegation fears at Leicester City this weekend, Rice will be required to produce another big performance.

As one of the most promising defenders in the competition, he is fully capable of delivering on his potential.

Also in this series

Part 2: Redmond adds to threat of Southampton

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