While Manchester United’s players and staff rushed to celebrate wildly with goalkeeper David De Gea, Declan Rice sat disconsolately on the ball. The West Ham United captain had given everything in a thrilling game and watched on as Mark Noble was sprung from the bench to take the 93rd-minute penalty that he had initially planned to strike.
West Ham deserved a point on the balance of play and the fact David Moyes’ team were able to, as he put it, go toe to toe with Manchester United was largely down to their one truly elite player. Rice, alongside Tomas Soucek, was outstanding again in the zero-frills manner that is not always appreciated by the Instagram highlights generation.
One minute he was sweeping up in front of the back four, the next starting moves forward by efficiently feeding those in front of him and it was impossible not to think at various moments that he would doubtlessly make yesterday’s opponents better.
Only Chelsea and Manchester City can rival Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad in terms of depth and yet there remains an evident weakness in midfield. Rice is a level above Fred and Scott McTominay, the visitors’ starting pair, and no one can seriously dispute the fact he deserves to be a Champions League player.
That is what makes it feel more likely than ever that he will depart East London next summer and United appear the most likely destination. They are one of few with the financial muscle to make an offer that West Ham will deem acceptable, around £100m, for a player under contract until 2024 and their desperate need for more presence in the centre means it is a far better fit than Chelsea and City.
For West Ham he will be irreplaceable but there is a resignation that, for all the progress of the past 18 months, they are not in a position to give their star man what he needs. It should be added that Rice, who has turned down two offers of improved terms, remains totally committed – something that cannot be said of every professional in similar situations.
When Ronaldo stunned the majority of the London Stadium into silence with his 35th-minute equaliser, it was hard not to be drawn towards one figure in claret in blue as the players made their way towards the halfway line. Heads bowed and optimism tempered, Rice led the rallying call – urging his team-mates to go again, windmilling his arms towards the supporters.
They responded and Rice was the driving force behind it, setting the tempo on the ball and sweeping up off it. He completed 60 of 62 passes and no one made more interceptions.
The other standout moment came with a little more than 15 minutes left on the clock, the match level but West Ham beginning to gain more of a foothold, when Rice stole the ball from the feet of Ronaldo before charging forward from a similar area to where he began the move for that remarkable goal away to Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night.
For a split second a sense of anticipation crept up but on this occasion there were several more defensive obstacles in the West Ham captain’s way and he wisely decided to pass to substitute Andriy Yarmolenko, who then lost possession.
As Rice, 22 years old and likely still some years from his peak, works to ascend to another level, more regular contributions in the final third seems like the natural next step. If he can begin to score and assist with more regularity, he may become unstoppable.
Source by Football London