Declan Rice aiming high after early-season ‘panic’ about another West Ham relegation battle


Declan Rice was roundly praised for the form he showed on England duty during the past two weeks but for regular West Ham watchers, his performances were no surprise.

Rice is a player best seen live, but due to coronavirus that pleasure has been limited to teammates, opponents and a lucky few in the media.

The way he breaks up play with his superb positioning can be lost on television where you miss his movement to be in the right place and the right time.

It might look like he covers every blade of grass because he is always in the correct place to intercept the ball or to receive it from his teammates.

But that is to misunderstand him.

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Rice is always in the right place not purely due to his athleticism but because of how well he reads the game and can anticipate where he needs to be.

This in-game intelligence enables him to conserve energy and when required produce the 50-metre sprint to intercept a Harry Kane cross that looked destined for Dele Alli to tap home.

Or in the final minutes of a match to pick the ball up on the edge of his own box and gallop the length of the field past five Arsenal players, two of whom are fresh substitutes who simply cannot keep up.

Rice is a superb footballer who belongs in the upper echelons of the game rather than battling relegation as he was last season.

“It’s been a massive step up compared to last season where we were fighting relegation at this time. We were coming into training worrying about other results, worrying about our result and how we played on the weekend and a year on it’s a complete turnaround,” Rice told The 2 Robbies podcast.

David Moyes said on Friday that he is taking it “one game at a time” as he aims to lead his Hammers team into European competition and Rice is reading from the same hymn sheet as his manager.

“There is now confidence that we can push into Europe, whether that is Champions League or Europa League we now have full belief as a squad and in the manager that we have got the quality now with ten games to go that we can go on and achieve something special for this club,” the midfielder said.

David Moyes celebrates with Declan Rice at the end of the Chelsea win

Rice admitted that the players knew last year was not good enough and set themselves an aim of finishing in mid-table this season. Fairly or not that would now be an anti-climax for a side just two points off the Champions League spot.

“I think as players we knew last year, I think, you know as a player that when you’re on the pitch, and you’re not getting the results and things aren’t going well, that it’s not good enough,” Rice said,

“As players, we have to have a chat and have a meeting like we always do at the start of the season and we set ourselves targets and that target this year was to finish in the top half.”

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At the beginning of the campaign, a top-half finish would have been seen as excellent progress during Moyes’ first full season in charge but after an opening day defeat to Newcastle United 2-0, Rice was suddenly not so confident about the ambition.

“I’ve got to say after we lost the first one against Newcastle 2-0, we were all really panicking! But then look, we turned it around again and went on a great run from there and that has been the main theme all season we stayed really consistent and stuck to what the manager has asked of us .”

If the team keeps performing as they have been and carries on doing what Moyes asks of them there is no reason Rice will not be leading his team out next season in European competition.

Whether that is the Champions League or the Europa League is yet to be seen. Both will be a sign of progress but Rice and Moyes are in no doubt that they want to avoid Thursday night competition if they can.





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