Momentum continues to gather linking Manchester United with a move for West Ham midfielder Declan Rice.
The 22-year old has been in sensational form for the Hammers this season, playing a pivotal role in their impressive season which could still yet end up with Champions League qualification.
Even so, reports suggest that a move to Old Trafford could entice the West Ham man, and the Manchester Evening News revealed earlier this week that he’d asked United players about the club during the England national team’s World Cup qualifiers last month.
As things stand, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer normally rotates a midfield quartet of Scott McTominay, Fred, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic to play as his double-pivot within a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Whilst these four tend to fulfil the role to an adequate level, there’s been a number of performances, such as the one at Leicester City in the FA Cup last month, that signalled United need a much stronger midfield if they’re to really challenge at the top of the Premier League next season.
Pogba aside given that it is largely accepted that he’s United’s best midfielder, Fred and McTominay have proven to be reliable and solid, if unremarkable, whilst Matic, who turns 33 in August, has begun to rapidly decline.
Therefore Rice’s introduction could act as a shot in the arm of the United midfield, adding both quality and a new dimension to the team.
At West Ham, Rice tends to feature within variations of a midfield two, like he would at United. This signals his transition into the heart of the United side could be a seamless one.
However, an added layer of appeal is the versatility he exhibits, comfortable playing deeper or more advanced with little in the way of a drop in his ability. This provides Solskjaer with greater options should he need to tweak or alter his team against specific opponents.
In terms of measurable output, we can see how the England international measures up this season against each of McTominay, Fred and Matic below.
(You can see a more clear version of the below image here).
Whilst Rice has been involved in slightly fewer duels per 90, he boasts the best success rate for battles both on the floor and in the air.
He also has the best pass success rate, despite having the joint-highest average pass length, signalling he’s willing to attempt longer and more penetrating passes whilst still maintaining a high level of accuracy.
Rice’s input can’t be captured in numbers alone though. This is because he has a number of unmeasurable traits such as bravery, leadership and good tactical awareness. We can see an example of the latter here.
In West Ham’s recent 3-3 draw with Arsenal, note how Rice takes up a good position and body shape whilst his side are without the ball. Despite the different risks around him, he remains aware of the position of Bukayo Saka as the threat begins to build.
As the ball is progressed, Saka is the target of an intended pass, however, Rice is aware and quickly moves to hoover up the ball as the Arsenal attacker attempts to turn and drive towards the West Ham goal. His anticipation and speed here stops the attack and wins possession back for his side.
Based on all of the above, it’s clear why Solskjaer is so keen to bring the 22-year-old to Old Trafford. He ticks many midfield boxes and would be an instant upgrade on most midfielders already at the club.
If United can land him, plus a new forward and central defender, as they desire, then you wouldn’t bet against them legitimately challenging for the Premier League title next season.