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Talking Tactics

Rice's new role has taken West Ham forward

Adrian Clarke 11 Jan 2019
Declan Rice, Southampton v West Ham

Adrian Clarke explains how the 19-year-old defender's move into midfield has helped him and the team

Adrian Clarke looks at the key tactical battles in Matchweek 22.

West Ham v Arsenal

One of the great tactical successes of the 2018/19 Premier League season has been Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to make Declan Rice a defensive midfielder.

In mid-September the West Ham United manager asked the youngster, who turns 20 next week, to move forward from central defence to firm up the midfield.  

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It was an astute call that has benefited both the player and the team.

Rice has become one of the most consistent deep-lying midfielders in the Premier League and West Ham are rightly proud to have got him to sign a contract extension.

What makes Rice special?

West Ham’s midfield was crying out for a natural ball-winner with a physical presence and Rice was the perfect fit.

The academy graduate goes about his business in a strong but efficient manner, winning 63.3 per cent of his tackles and 59 per cent of his duels this season.  

Indeed, he has won more tackles than any of his team-mates.

He is also able to cover the ground quickly, picking up loose balls anywhere inside the middle third.

He is ranked fourth best of all the PL’s central midfielders at recovering the ball.

On a per-90-minute basis, Wolverhampton WanderersRuben Neves is the only member of the top five who beats his record.

Central midfielder ball recoveries
Player Recoveries Per 90
Wilfred Ndidi 169 8.18
Ruben Neves 162 8.90
Abdoulaye Doucoure 155 7.74
Declan Rice 152 8.68
Philip Billing 147 7.55

It is worth noting how few fouls Rice commits.

He has been called for just six fouls all season, at a rate one of every 2.92 matches, confirming his impeccable timing and wise decision-making.

On the ball he is excellent, too. His smooth passing has played a key part in transforming West Ham into a side now far more comfortable in possession.

Rice v Torreira

Saturday’s match with Arsenal pits Rice against another of the division’s most effective newcomers in defensive midfield.

Lucas Torreira has instantly become a fans’ favourite at Emirates Stadium, adding much-needed bite and tenacity.

When you put Rice’s statistics alongside Torreira’s, there is little to choose between them.

Their duel at the London Stadium should make for fascinating viewing.

2018/19 Rice Torreira
Minutes 1575 1489
Tackles won 28 26
Interceptions 25 28
Ball recoveries 152 139
Clearances 35 20
Blocks 7 4
Fouls conceded 6 23
Passes per 90 43.9 66.6
Pass success % 85.7 89.3
Forward passes % 26.7 26.8

Pellegrini’s trust in Rice is such that it has prompted a formation change in recent weeks.

The manager is now happy to play him in a midfield duo alongside Mark Noble or Pedro Obiang, allowing a switch to his preferred 4-4-2 system.

That positive move of picking an extra forward is only possible because Pellegrini trusts Rice. For a 19-year-old that is impressive. 

Also in this series

Part 1: De Bruyne offers Man City a different dimension
Part 2: How Hazard can thrive as Sarri's lone striker
Part 4: How Solskjaer put Man Utd back on the attack

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