Venkatanarayanan V writes a detailed scout report about the England and West Ham midfielder, Declan Rice.
“Overrated” is a commonly used term in football language these days and this term is often used in conjunction with English Players. Almost every English player out there is overrated (well according to football twitter, atleast), and if you have followed the 2019/20 season closely, you might have come across another *overrated* English player – Declan Rice. But is he really overrated? Here is a report of Declan Rice that I have written, analysing his different abilities using data.
West Ham, 16th in the league table, winning only twice in 2020, look set for another bottom half finish – for the third time in the last 4 seasons. Amidst the chaos, they have produced potentially a future star, not just on the pitch, but a star for their transfer business as well.
Rice started his career at the Chelsea academy and switched his allegiances to West Ham in 2013 and has risen through the ranks at West Ham to establish himself at the heart of their midfield. However, it is important to note that he started his West Ham senior career as a centre back. The midfielder, who also made his senior national team debut for England in March 2019, albeit after the controversial decision of choosing to play for England, looks poised to end the season as his personal best in terms of every aspect.
Going by traditional metrics, Rice is one of the very best defensive midfielders in the league. He ranks top of the ladder for tackles won (70), not just in the English top flight, but in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Unsurprisingly, he is very active in his team’s press too, only James McArthur (199) of Crystal Palace has more successful pressures than Rice (197). This is really interesting when you consider West Ham have one of the worst pressure success rates in the league. West Ham usually start with captain Mark Noble and Declan Rice in the centre of the pitch, but it is Rice who usually takes a central position wandering in and around the central area. Because of this, the opponent’s central midfielder usually takes up wider positions to create. Below is a screenshot of one such example. Rice’s positional awareness is credited by the fact that he is an excellent interceptor of the ball too, with the 4th most interceptions in the league. His excellent defensive attributes also owes much to the fact that he started his career as a centre back and slowly transitioned into a defensive midfielder and has now made that position his own.
To get deeper into Rice’s defensive ability, let’s analyse a few of his strengths
Figure below showing Rice’s awareness – as you can see in the picture , he realises Firmino could be the potential target for the pass and quickly runs to close him down, because of this the pass target now becomes a different player and Liverpool pass it back to build up once again. This awareness in game allows him to intercept a high number of passes and put tackles in whenever needed. What he eventually does is he tries to get in front of Firmino (even though it looks like he is getting behind/side of him in the image) which changes the mind of Wijnaldum.
Guarding the zone
Figure below showing an instance of Arsenal’s Ozil drifting wide to create space to receive a pass (If you had closely followed that game, you would realise how often that happened as Rice did a very good job not allowing space for Ozil in the centre). Rice is usually stationed in the centre and rarely drives with the ball at his feet. He can start as the lone defensive midfielder or in pivot along with Mark Noble, and still his role is to reduce the passes through the centre. Doing this causes the opponents to go direct or go through the wide areas to attack.
Anticipating a situation and reacting to it
Another thing that Rice is pretty good at is the calmness that he brings along with his defending. He is someone who is always aware of what is happening around him, which allows him to take up a position before he decides to go for a tackle or an interception. Instead of taking a man, he takes up a zone and continues to jog around the zone to cut any pass lines that could emerge for the opponent player holding the ball.
Figure below shows exactly how he intercepts the ball. A few seconds before he actually intercepts, he takes a quick look around the number of opponent players and then decides to calmly push the ball away. He does the exact thing two minutes later.
In the figure below, you can see how Rice is placed exactly in between the two players who could be recipients of the pass. Positioning this way allows him to go either way when the pass is made and intercept it. But, in this sequence of play, Southampton pass it back and take it around the wide areas.
Figure below showing Rice’s defensive profile this season and as you can see he has racked some pretty good numbers, one can say. The graph is also evident of the fact that Rice is among the very best tacklers in the league.
All these defensive qualities are very minute things in the game and are demanded of every defensive midfielder out there but Rice is extremely good at executing these skills. Rice is a well-built hardworking unit in the centre of the pitch that every team would love to have. Only Southampton have applied more pressure than West Ham and have won more tackles than West Ham and Rice has been a major influence in both of these. He loves to keep things simple and this approach of his has been very reflective in his numbers and could only go upward with better players around him.
Declan Rice’s preferred foot is right but he is comfortable using both feet to make a pass. Rice is someone who keeps wandering the pitch until he actually finds the space to receive a pass. If you closely watch his game, he looks at his right side and left side almost every second of the game to constantly stay aware of who is around him and how far they are, just like when he does this while he defends. This also allows him to constantly evade his markers and find space to receive a pass.
Figure below shows Rice making a run into the box to receive a pass, but then he realises there is space wide open behind him(about to be vacated by Robertson) and he then checks his run, and moves behind to provide an option for a pass.
This allows him the time to turn and put a cross in (Figure below) which results in a West Ham goal. The entire build up to the goal involves Rice starting from the centre making himself available for a pass and ending up in the wide positions to put a cross into the box.
One aspect of passing that Rice needs to improve is when being pressured by an opponent. This is also reflective of the fact that he is very direct in his passing and why he loves to find space around him. This is an important attribute for any midfielder as they are constantly going to be under pressure from the opponent. As you can see in the graph, he isn’t the very best for passing under pressure from an opponent.
Figure below shows Rice is very direct in his passing.
Rice isn’t known for extravagant, out of the world passes, he prefers to quickly get done with the pass and move to the next phase of play, even when he has the option to drive forward he prefers to pass it to the nearest available option and that is why he is among those players who passes rarely get intercepted (although he has made quite a low number of passes per 90 compared to the other defensive mids, which is once again because West Ham are very direct in their approach and rarely build from the back)
When it comes to progressive passing, Rice is way behind the others. Even though it is slightly unfair to judge Rice based on this (because he rarely is in advanced positions of midfield) and the midfielders who play in advanced have more chances of excelling in this aspect, Rice’s 3.10 prog. Pass per 90 minutes is not a good sign and he needs to improve on that aspect.
Rice does possess some good qualities of passing as you have seen in the analysis above but he is not in the best category yet. He is not among the best in terms of vision too. This isn’t to say he cannot improve or he will never be able to reach the very best level. He doesn’t spend too much time on the ball. He is mainly there in the middle of the park to intercept and clear the ones in his zone, when it comes holding the ball, he is just there to quickly recycle it for his teammates.
Attacking & Build up
It is fair to say Rice has very little involvement in the buildup play of West Ham. The reason why Declan Rice doesn’t often drive forward with the ball is because his role at West Ham requires him to guard the central defensive area and not be too involved in attacks. His shot creating actions per 90 of 0.86 and his xA of 0.04 is among the lowest in the league.
Figure below showing Declan Rice’s ball progression ability. He isn’t the best of carriers and he doesn’t carry with great frequency either. Although, he might need to do better in this aspect if he moves to a different team in the future.
So, whenever he receives the in the middle of the park, he just casually passes it to the nearest free option available and gets on with his work.
Declan Rice does exactly what he is being asked to do by his current employers. His defensive ability is close to being one of the very best in the league. He is a workhorse off the ball. If you are looking for a box-to-box or someone who can build up your attack, Rice isn’t your guy. Rice is linked with his boyhood club Chelsea and many other potential suitors. He is likely to be West Ham’s biggest sale ever for the coming years, he has a contract that runs till 2024 (for now). All these factors and his qualities mean he isn’t coming cheap.
Data from fbref.com
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