As West Ham sit fourth in the Premier League – and comfortably top of their Europa League group – Declan Rice has been a fundamental element of their impressive season as his stock continues to rise.
But while many have sung the praises of the Hammers after finally challenging for a place in Europe, the England midfielder has made it clear he has a big appetite for even more success and play among the elite.
‘Hopefully the club can get in the Champions League and my ambition of course [is] I want to play in the Champions League as well,’ Rice said last month. ‘I feel like I am young and I want to keep pushing. Hopefully, the club can get in the Champions League and we can keep pushing.’
Declan Rice has delivered consistent performances for West Ham throughout this season
He has been linked with a move to Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea as well as Manchester United
Those comments came after a defeat by Manchester City, but it is title rivals Chelsea – who Tony Cottee believes would be Rice’s preferred destination should he leave the London Stadium – and city neighbours United who have been most heavily linked with a move for the 22-year-old.
Rice was released from the Blues academy in 2014 but has been weighed up as an option by the Stamford Bridge outfit, especially under former boss Frank Lampard.
A mega-money summer move would see him link-up with close friend Mason Mount but there is already heavy competition in the centre of the park under Thomas Tuchel, as the latest Ballon d’Or results demonstrated.
Chelsea’s Champions League glory last season at least partially contributed to N’Golo Kante and Jorginho finishing in the top five, with the latter the favourite to claim the award at one stage this year before his sharp drop off in form.
Rice (back row, second right) was part of the Blues academy before being released in 2014
However, speaking last month former Blues skipper John Terry heaped praise on Rice as ‘the best in his position in world football’. So how does the West Ham man compare to his Chelsea counterparts ahead of Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off?
Groin and knee injuries as well as contracting Covid have limited France World Cup winner Kante to just 12 appearances in all competitions this season, while team-mate Jorginho and opposite number Rice have been ever-presents with 18 appearances each.
The Italian unsurprisingly leads the way in terms of goals scored, though all four – split 50-50 between the Premier League and Champions League – have come from the penalty spot.
David Moyes, meanwhile, admitted Rice had suffered ‘a bit of ribbing’ last season after scoring just twice for the Hammers in the entirety of last season, including a penalty.
N’Golo Kante (front) and Jorginho (back) finished in the top five for the 2021 Ballon d’Or
But the Scot’s conviction Rice can develop into a goalscoring midfield player appears to hold some substance to it, having netted on three occasions already this term, two of which came in the opening two games of the Europa League season.
Frenchman Kante has scored twice meanwhile this term, but both goals came in critical 3-0 wins at Leicester and Tottenham. But the all-action 30-year-old is the only member of the trio yet to register an assist during this campaign.
The crown for this particular category belongs to Rice, and deservedly so having stepped up at vital moments.
His first came after setting up the first of Michail Antonio’s strikes against Leicester to put the Hammers 3-2 up, and then following that up with another assist for the Jamaican’s 90th-minute winner at Leeds the following month.
Yet the best exhibition of Rice’s attacking talent came in the 4-1 win at Aston Villa, serving up a delicious cross-field pass which Ben Johnson fired into the corner, before firing into the same area of the net himself later on.
Jorginho however may consider himself a little hard done by, matching Rice for the number of chances created (14 – three of which were big chances) in all competitions this season, but only having the ball which set up Mason Mount’s first in the 7-0 thrashing of Norwich to show for his efforts.
Kante’s tendency to also drive forward bursting with energy has seen him create eight chances, perfectly in keeping with where you would expect him to be having played six fewer games than the other two.
The passing accuracy from the trio is unsurprisingly of an extremely high level, although Kante’s number are perhaps slightly lower than the average, though his proclivity to break through the lines with his runs than through passing could be a contributing factor to that.
Rice however cannot be beaten for passing accuracy in his own half or in the opposition half by the Chelsea duo, though in truth there is very little to choose between them.
Jorginho has scored the most goals of all the midfielders, but all four have been penalties
That superb passing return appears to apply to both long and short balls, with Rice’s cross-field ball at Villa Park perhaps the best example of his ability over longer distances.
However, Jorginho represents the metronome in the Chelsea midfield who keeps matters ticking over while the likes of Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are able to forage forward.
And that is demonstrated in the stats, with the Euro 2020 winners attempting just nine dribbles compared to Kante’s 25, 17 of which have been completed.
However, Rice’s development as a ball progressing midfielder have seen him complete 28 of the 44 dribbles attempted. While Rice would unlikely have outperformed Kante here is unlikely if the Frenchman had not been injured, but it does demonstrate the West Ham man’s ability to keep pace with the rest.
The statistics so far have demonstrated just how far the man who managed just three goals and as many assists in all competitions last season has developed going forward, but it has not come at the cost of neglecting his defensive duties.
Declan Rice delivered a stunning performance at Aston Villa, including an incredible assist
After setting up Ben Johnson he then found the same corner himself with a terrific strike
He outperforms the Chelsea duo in the air – no doubt due to coming through as a central defender as a youngster – by some considerable distance, winning 21 of the 35 battles that he has been involved in in the air, while Kante and Jorginho have lost nine and 18 of their 15 and 26 aerial duels respectively.
The 22-year-old also has superior numbers when it comes to duel success rate, recoveries, tackles won, blocks and interceptions.
That is not to suggest that Kante’s powers are by any means waning, having still won 11 of his 20 tackles this season, meaning he has the highest tackle success rate of the trio.
Moreover, he is the player who he has been dribbled past on fewest occasions by an opponent, with his compared to Jorginho and Rice who are both comfortably in double figures.
The attacking and defensive numbers ultimately fail to single out a clear winner between the trio, but Rice’s numbers can certainly compare to the Champions League winners’ this season and in no way reflect any sort of inferiority.
Registering these sort of numbers on a consistent basis – like Kante and Jorginho have managed to produce for a number of years now – rather than over a period of 18 games will be Rice’s next aim in his development.
But with time on his side, and a manager who is as proud of his performances as most fans are in Moyes, he is certainly on the right tracks to follow in the former’s footsteps.
Whether he follows them by moving to Stamford Bridge is another matter, but Saturday’s game against his former club is just the latest opportunity to demonstrate why he is among England’s most exciting midfield talents with a performance against a side who come the summer may court him once more.
But Rice’s attacking development has not come at the cost of neglecting defensive duties
N’Golo Kante still comes out on top in some categories despite playing six fewer matches