ost England players have understandably suffered a dip in form this season given the emotional and physical effects of Euro 2020, but West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is proving the exception to the norm.
Rice has, if anything, got better since the Euros and his performance during the Hammers’ 1-0 win over Everton on Sunday was confirmation of that.
This was not the most open and free-flowing game – as typified by the fact the winner came from Angelo Ogbonna heading home a corner with 16 minutes to go – but it was one that West Ham controlled.
They finished the game with more than 60 per cent of the possession at Goodison Park and, for the first 25 minutes of the game, Everton couldn’t get the ball off them. Had West Ham had a greater cutting edge, it would have been a more comfortable afternoon for David Moyes on his return to Merseyside.
“I was annoyed because I thought our play had warranted goals or even if it had been clear opportunities from it,” he said.
“But credit to Everton, I think they blocked a lot of shots. They defended the box well when we got there and we didn’t quite show enough in the final third to get that.”
When games are tight like this, it is vital to control proceedings. Moyes felt his side didn’t do that before the international break, when they were beaten by Brentford, but they corrected that issue against Everton.
That was largely thanks to Rice, who bossed the midfield both in and out of possession. The 22-year-old has always been good at breaking up play, but over the past 18 months his ability on the ball has greatly improved.
Now the midfielder is picking out passes and carrying the ball up the pitch, with the latter even happening in the dying minutes when Rice looked dead on his feet.
“It would be very hard to say how good he was. He was excellent,” said Moyes, when asked about Rice’s performance.
“For me, he was head and shoulders above anybody on the pitch today. He passed it, took control, wanted the ball, recovered the ball, tried to create opportunities and did the dirty bits in the game when he had to.
“But also, he had a great sort of air of control and poise when he was on the ball. So, I don’t know if I can speak highly enough about Declan today, but I would be saying that for most of the season.
“There have been games where I think he could have stepped up a little more, but there is big improvement in Declan and obviously that’s good for us.”
Very few England players have kicked on since the Euros, but Rice has underlined his importance to Gareth Southgate and this West Ham team too.
The Hammers look more solid at the back this season, partly thanks to the arrival of Kurt Zouma (who shone again yesterday), but also because Rice has been playing so well.
Any defence would be delighted to have the 22-year-old sat in front of them when he is in the form he is now.
England and West Ham will be hoping it continues for as long as possible and Rice currently shows no signs of slowing down.