Declan Rice continued to build his rapidly growing reputation with another near-faultless performance in West Ham United’s 2-0 Premier League win over Newcastle United.
Playing in the position he has made his own in recent months in front of the back four, Rice provided protection for the defence, while also using his vision, technique and ever-expanding range of passing to put his team on the front foot on numerous occasions.
Rice again produced a display that makes it difficult to believe he only celebrated his 20th birthday in January, outshining Newcastle’s own young home-grown deep-lying midfielder Sean Longstaff and no doubt impressing the watching England assistant manager Steve Holland.
While Longstaff struggled to impose himself on the game and was booked by referee Christopher Kavanagh before being replaced at half-time, Rice was influential from start to finish.
It took just seven minutes for the No41 to make his mark, losing his marker Fabian Schar before planting a firm header past Martin Dubravka from Robert Snodgrass’s superb in-swinging corner.
Rice celebrated by putting his finger to his lips, having silenced the travelling Toon Army, but there was nothing quiet about the way he continued to dominate the central third of the pitch.
The youngster attempted more passes than any player on the pitch, alongside Manuel Lanzini, with 63. Fifty-two of them for a more than respectable 82.5% completion percentage, especially when you consider he attempted ten ‘long’ passes of 20 metres or more, with eight of them successfully reaching a teammate in Claret and Blue.
As an aside, Lanzini completed a ridiculous 61 of his 63 pass attempts for a scarcely believable 96.8% completion percentage.
Overall, only Felipe Anderson, with 83, and Lanzini, with 80, had more touches of the ball than the Academy of Football graduate’s 79, showing just how central he is to the way Manuel Pellegrini’s team play when in possession of the ball.
Defensively, too, Rice was vital to West Ham keeping their first clean sheet in seven matches dating back to the 1-0 home win over Arsenal on 12 January – a game in which he also scored.
Nobody on the pitch made as many tackles as Rice’s six, with his intelligent positioning and impeccable timing meaning he also committed just one foul in the whole game.
Another young English talent gives @WestHamUtd the lead. Got a bit of Billy Bonds about him has Declan Rice.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) March 2, 2019
Rice has spoken regularly about how he is still learning the position and particularly of the need to retain his discipline and not get drawn into wide areas. Even so, he covered 10.65km – a distance only bettered by Lanzini and Snodgrass.
The watching Billy Bonds, who was honoured pre-match with the East Stand being named in his honour, will surely have been impressed by a player who possesses so many of the characteristics that he himself displayed during his own illustrious career.
And if Rice achieves even a fraction of what Bonds achieved in Claret and Blue, we are in for a real treat over the months and seasons to come.