Declan Rice: Something’s really changed and things are improving
Listening to Declan Rice speak after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, you can see why he has captained West Ham United at every level.
With the captain leading by example with another influential and vocal midfield display, the Irons pushed the runaway Premier League all the ways and were unfortunate not to end their 19-match unbeaten run.
And, despite being clearly disappointed to leave Etihad Stadium with nothing, Rice was brimming with positivity about what the Hammers can still achieve this season.
The leadership traits that have so impressed his Academy coaches and first-team managers outweighed any personal sense of frustration as the hugely impressive 22-year-old outlined how West Ham’s performance proved they belong at the top end of the Premier League table.
It wasn’t like that a year ago, but something’s really changed and things are improving
“We’ve given them their toughest test in the 20 games that they’ve won,” he told West Ham TV. “I thought you saw a different West Ham today, one which was confident and really believed they could take it to City. Even when we were sat in for long periods of the game, we actually had the better chances.
“We took the ball from the back really confidently and were playing out from the back. Some people see that as a heart attack when we’re passing it around at the back, but we’ve got that confidence and belief in ourselves that we can play out, and we did.
“We had so many good chances and it was one of those that when you come back to the changing room you’re gutted. I’m standing here talking to you, but inside I’m hurt and I’m gutted we didn’t come away with something.”
A 2-1 win in 2015/16 aside, this was West Ham’s best performance at Etihad Stadium since Dean Ashton’s double secured an FA Cup sixth round win 15 years ago, and the manner of it suggests the Irons truly believe they belong among the Premier League’s leading lights.
Rice certainly believes so, but he knows the Hammers need to be better in the final third if they are to stay there.
“There was two or three times when we won the ball in their half and as soon as we did we’d give a sloppy pass away and they’d be back on it,” he observed. “They’re the bits there we need to brush up on and it’s so gutting to come here and not come away with a point.
“To have got three points would have been unbelievable but to not get at least a point was so unlucky.”
With 12 games to go, West Ham remain in the top five and Rice is adamant they have what it takes to remain in contention for European qualification.
“We’re not letting this slip now,” he insisted. “We’ve got Leeds next and we’re pushing on and we’re going to keep working hard.
“We’ve got 12 games left and we know what’s ahead of us. We’ve got a good squad here, a great mentality and if we perform like that, there is no reason why we can’t stay high in the top half.
“A year ago, no beating around the bush, we were a poor side. We’d have a couple of games when we were good, then have games when we were poor, but now you can see our performances week-in week-out are full of heart and desire and we’re leaving everything on the pitch.
“You saw Vladi at the end with his hands on his head and the lads were gutted in the changing room. It wasn’t like that a year ago, but something’s really changed and things are improving.”