How Rice went up a level at West Ham

Manuel Lanzini’s finish at Crystal Palace was special but Declan Rice’s role in West Ham’s second goal demands further examination. His clever scanning helps to explain why he has become one of the Premier League’s most complete midfielders.

When the ball was played into the feet of Jarrod Bowen, Rice’s first glance was behind him. There was a second look ahead to check what space he had to run into. As Bowen passed to him, there followed a third look forwards before he had even received the ball.

Once Rice had possession and was running directly towards the Palace goal, his head was not down. Even then – especially then – he was scanning. There were three more glances at Lanzini, building a picture as the attack developed before finally playing the pass.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from West Ham’s win against Crystal Palace

Geir Jordet has been analysing the importance of scanning since 1998, among the first to really do so. A professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, he did his thesis and PhD on the role of vision, perception and anticipation in elite-level performance.

“Scanning does not tell us everything,” Jordet told Sky Sports this summer, “but it gives us a little bit of a window into the vision awareness process that these players have. It is a glimpse of the extent to which these players are aware of their surroundings.”

Studies suggest that the average player scans around three or four times in the 10 seconds before receiving the ball. In that brief passage of play at Selhurst Park on New Year’s Day, Rice scanned around on six separate occasions in just eight seconds.

With Rice, it is not just the quantity of his scanning but the quality of it. “Do not just look but perceive what is happening,” says Jordet. “And ultimately use it to guide your actions.” Rice recognised where the space was and he picked out the right pass to make as well.

He knows all about scanning – citing it as an example of what he admires about England team-mate and friend Mason Mount. Such understanding of what is required to succeed is just part of the reason why Rice is evolving into such an outstanding player.

He has surpassed already high expectations this season with West Ham, improving once more and inspiring a team that is now fifth in the table. A player once seen as a defender in the long term is now showing that there is so much more to his game.

“I am not just a holding midfielder any more. I was always labelled as one that just sits in front of the back four, I really now want to see myself as a box-to-box player where I can get up and down and create things as well as getting back and helping the team as well.”

West Ham’s second goal was a fine example of the purposeful ball carrying that Rice has added to his game. The statistics show that his number of carries per 90 minutes has increased year-on-year throughout his five seasons as a Premier League player.

He ranks second for ball carries by midfielders in the competition this season, behind only Bernardo Silva. The Manchester City man is a very different player, a reminder that these are not the numbers of a traditional holding midfielder. But Rice does that side of it too.

He is among the top five midfielders for tackles and tops the list for interceptions. He recovers possession for his team more often than anyone else in his position – Rodri is second – and there was a good example of that in the build-up to the opener at Palace.

Rice drilled the ball wide to Vladimir Coufal – highlighting his passing range – but was also in the right place to retrieve it when Bowen was dispossessed. Sweeping up, he spread the play to Ben Johnson who fed Said Benrahma. He crossed. Michail Antonio scored.

Those were just two of the 521 passes that Rice has completed in the opposition half this season, ranking among the very best. His passing is tidy and his range is developing, even if David Moyes has identified it as a facet of his game that he can improve.

The West Ham boss recently suggested the examples of Rodri, Jorginho and Frenkie de Jong as good markers for Rice, while making the important point that he is a different type of player. Rice can pass the ball but frankly even if he couldn’t he would be a top player.

“If you looked at the other side of the game, Declan is as good as anybody I know at recovering the ball, and speed round the pitch,” Moyes explained. “I cannot really think of many other midfield players like Declan in that mould really.”

A tackler and a ball carrier, someone who can win it back and then take responsibility for what to do with it next. It is enough to put him in the top bracket of midfielders in Europe and, given that Rice only turns 23 on January 14th, further progress can be expected.

When Jordet first analysed scanning in the Premier League many years ago, his findings were revealing. “In that sample, number one and two were Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. They were the top two scanners. That tells you something.”

West Ham supporters will not like the thought of Rice following the exact same career path as Lampard, but they can be confident that he is on a similar trajectory. In fact, it takes little more than a glance to see that he is becoming the complete midfield player.

Source : Sky Sports