DOMINIC KING: After a slow start to the season, Declan Rice gave a timely reminder of just how crucial he’ll be for England in Qatar… as David Moyes was quick to point out, he was ‘back to his best’ in West Ham’s defeat at Liverpool
- England manager Gareth Southgate was at Anfield on a scouting mission
- West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is clearly feeling the effects of his workload
- If England are going to go deep into the tournament, his role will be huge
- David Moyes insisted Rice was ‘back to his best’ in West Ham’s defeat at Anfield
A penny for Gareth Southgate’s thoughts: 33 days before England’s World Cup crusade starts, the head coach was on Merseyside for an important scouting trip.
Joe Gomez, on the back of his outstanding performance against Manchester City, was high on Southgate’s list to watch with so many concerns over the state of his defence; Trent Alexander-Arnold had to be seen, too, given the injury that has wrecked Reece James’s dreams.
Jordan Henderson was another Southgate would have been happy to see popping the ball about with class and conviction. This was encouraging, as it was the 32-year-old’s best performance so far of the season, full of tempo-setting control.
Declan Rice has had a mixed start to the season but he was back to his best against Liverpool
It wasn’t just about Liverpool, though. West Ham will be represented on the plane to Qatar and quite significantly. Declan Rice is one of the first names on a Southgate teamsheet and if England are going to go deep into the tournament, his role will be huge.
Rice was fantastic during Euro 2020. There are always moments when the top players enhance their reputations and the nerveless way he patrolled the midfield alongside Kalvin Phillips saw him come of age, the kind of displays that vindicated why colossal figures are mentioned about his value.
The 23-year-old’s quality is not in question, not in the slightest.
If West Ham wanted to cause uproar in East London tomorrow by saying they would accept bids for him, every club in the Premier League would come knocking and plenty in Europe would be interested as well.
The midfielder admitted he’s feeling the effects of a lot of football in a short space of time
But the reason Rice would have been of such interest to Southgate on Wednesday night was down to the way he has started the season – scratchy, if we are being kind, would be the best description – and comments he made two weeks ago.
‘I worked out from June 2021 to June 2022, I played 68 games – that is an obscene amount,’ said Rice. ‘Every game I walk off, I am knackered.’
There has been no respite this time around, either. He’s featured in 14 of West Ham’s 17 fixtures and played every minute of the frantic 3-3 draw with Germany at Wembley but there is a reason David Moyes and Southgate keep turning to him. Here he showed why.
Like his team, it took time for Rice to find a rhythm but as the game wore on and West Ham began to make Liverpool increasingly uncomfortable, he was always there – taking the ball, passing the ball, doing his utmost to help find an equaliser.
England boss Gareth Southgate was an interested spectator at Anfield on Wednesday night
‘If you didn’t see it, he was the best player on the pitch – by a mile,’ said Moyes. ‘Top player. He could play for any club, he’s that good – and I mean it. He was back to his best; for long periods he was fantastic, big parts of the play in how he dominated.
‘I think it is (a significant step on where he has been). That’s him getting back to his levels. For the people who don’t see us that often, last season he played that way in every game just about. He was so good. I thought he was a standout tonight, certainly as the game went on.’
That much was true. Some of Rice’s distribution in the second period was glorious, such as a switch of play in the 58th minute to Gianluca Scamacca and an 81st minute punched chip with back spin to Michail Antonio that was as precise as a sand wedge to the 18th green.
By the final whistle, however, he was wincing once again – the effects of a robust tackle on Mo Salah as the Egyptian shaped to shoot.
At times, he looked like a player with many yards in his legs: Southgate will be hoping this return to form brings with it renewed freshness.
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