The manner of last night’s draw will have felt like a defeat for England but as Declan Rice returns to West Ham United ahead of Saturday’s trip to Southampton the central midfielder can consider this international break not only a job well done but the week in which he solidified his position as first choice at the heart of Gareth Southgate’s team.
Rice and his partner Kalvin Phillips are still put down by some observers because they have never played in the Champions League and possess no major honours. It is becoming harder to justify those gripes every time they turn out for England and few reasonable viewers can argue that Jordan Henderson being the leader of the ‘B’ side that faced Andorra on Sunday was fair and just.
It is worth remembering that even at the semi-final stage of the European Championship there was a clamour for Henderson, who entered the tournament unfit following injury, to come in. A Champions League winner at Liverpool, it is impossible to dispute he has superior big-game experience and his leadership remains a key asset whether in the England XI or not.
Yet this international break has crystallised the hierarchy. For now. Southgate said last night that he will contemplate shuffling things around for the remaining qualifiers with qualification for Qatar almost secured. Jude Bellingham seems the most likely to make a breakthrough in the middle but if Rice continues to perform at this level then he is pretty much undroppable for the matches that matter.
At full time in Warsaw, Rice found himself being beckoned over to a little fan club of Poland supporters with a carboard sign asking for his shirt and a number of people wanting to shake hands and get a quick picture. (One held a Chelsea shirt in front of him.) He is no longer appreciated solely in East London but across the continent.
Within a minute last night Rice was cutting out passes into Poland’s final third, denying Karol Linetty’s attempt at finding Robert Lewandowski. There was a recovery run and block to keep out Grzegorz Krychowiak’s cross soon after and in a frantic opening 15 minutes the West Ham player remained calm amid the chaos. There was another crucial interception to deny Linetty inside the penalty area a minute before half time. All performed with no-nonsense efficiency.
He is also beginning to drive forward more frequently for England now, mirroring his approach at West Ham, and there can be little doubt that he is at his most effective in a pair rather than the heart of a three. Henderson’s absence from the XI in the tougher games is also explained by Phillips doing a more than adequate job in the Tomas Soucek role.
No one had more touches or passes in Warsaw than Rice and only Poland defender Jan Bednarek, of Southampton, won more aerial duels. Phillips was the only England player to make more interceptions and the manner in which they complement each other should not be understated.
The problem for West Ham is that these performances will only ramp up the transfer interest further. Manchester United or Chelsea could make more serious approaches next summer and the £100m valuation placed on him is appearing less exorbitant.
Rice’s contract runs to June 2024, leaving West Ham with plenty of power should a tug of war develop next summer, but it is indisputable that players of this quality should be playing at the very highest level – for club as well as country.
Source by Football London