Declan Rice against Man United | The positional and personality game

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Declan Rice against Man United | The positional and personality game


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"I left Alexis out, and I think that Martial is not a player very, very, very focused on his defensive duties. And to play him as a second striker and trying just to cover the area of Rice would be much easier for him."

Well, Anthony Martial didn't really do much to cover Declan Rice as West Ham put another dent into Jose Mourinho's already pessimistic early-season mood on Saturday morning by winning 3-1 at London Stadium. 

Given all the spotlight that's on Rice as we wait to see whether he'll decide to don an Ireland shirt again, it was interesting to take a keen look at how he performed in a big game for West Ham against Manchester United.

Positioning

Since he broke into the first team, we've seen Rice played as part of a back-three as well as further forward in midfield. 

Against United, he had acres of space to himself while in possession as Manuel Pellegrini put in him in the role the Spanish refer to as pivote - essentially the deepest-lying of the midfield three that operates in the space between advanced midfielders and the two centre-backs.

If Mourinho was planning to put Martial on him in order to disrupt West Ham's midfield it didn't work.

United's 3-5-2 shape saw neither Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic pressing in the first half which, from our vantage point on TV, left Rice unruffled and able to keep the ball moving crisply under no pressure.

Off the ball, when United had the ball, he tended to filter back or hold ground, although he made an error on the touchline when he went to ground to tackle Romelu Lukaku on the West Ham left-hand touchline which saw the Belgian striker escape both Rice and Mark Noble's attentions, creating momentary danger.

West Ham's Issa Diop, left, and West Ham's Declan Rice, right, challenge Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku, center, during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Manchester United at London Stadium in London in London, England, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

But when sitting deeper around the edge of the box, he showed his positional abilities in a better light, making an important block on a Paul Pogba shot about 10 minutes before half time.

And let's not forget, West Ham seemed to have picked up their form ever since Rice and captain Noble were joined in midfield by Pedro Obiang since Jack Wilshere's injury-enforced absence.

Personality

You could say a lot of things about John Terry but one thing that was undeniable was his leadership ability at Chelsea. By all account, Rice who's a former Chelsea youth teamer is on friendly terms with Terry and also modelled his game on the ex-England international when he began to be deployed as a defender.

It comes across in a way that is not common for a 19-year-old footballer. Rice constantly gesticulates to team-mates, pointing them into defensive positions, especially evident at set pieces.

That concentration was clear with about 22 minutes of the game to go when it was still in the balance and United were chasing an equaliser.

He made a strong challenge on Marcus Rashford down the left-back zone before the ball went out of play. But rather than stall and admire his handi-work, the first movement was to first move into a solid defensive zone and then point back to his team-mates to take up correct positions before United put the ball back into play.

Six minutes later, Marko Arnautovic makes it 3-1 at the other end. A good show from Rice but it'll be interesting to see how he would have fared if Man United had actually pressed him in the pivote role.


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