Chelsea: Lampard opens up on Rice amid transfer talk
In just the sixth minute, Declan Rice thought his Stamford Bridge moment had arrived. Having rounded Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, the 21-year-old fired home from an acute angle in front of the empty Matthew Harding Stand. The England international turned to celebrate. Then the realisation hit: he was offside in the build-up. His moment snatched away by the flag of the assistant referee.
Four minutes later, Chelsea were ahead. Thiago Silva thumped home a header from a corner from Rice’s good friend Mason Mount.
In years past, West Ham United would’ve quickly crumbled. But David Moyes has built a resolute side in East London. At the heart of it is Rice.
He is a physical presence in front of the Irons defence but also a vocal one – that’s part of the reason he’s been named captain on several occasions this term.
It’s also why Chelsea are interested in Rice, who the Blues let go from their academy at the age of 14.
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The England international has admitted that decision hurt, but it’s testament to his character, as Frank Lampard pointed out in his pre-match press conference, that he went to West Ham and has blossomed into one of the Premier League’s most promising midfielders.
Chelsea’s interest in Rice was heavily reported in the summer. They were, however, never likely to sign him after the Hammers put an £80 million price tag on his head.
Will that change in January? Probably not in truth. The Blues would have to shift several fringe players for quite incredible fees to even come close to West Ham’s valuation. But next summer things could be very different.
This is why all eyes were on Rice at Stamford Bridge. And he didn’t disappoint.
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He was unfortunate to have his goal chalked off but he didn’t let it impact his performance.
Rice was a composed figure in the West Ham midfield throughout the contest. He kept the ball moving, closed off passing avenues, covered for his full-backs, and also offered a threat in the final third when he broke forward.
One late surge shortly before half time particularly caught the eye. Rice made up several yards on Cesar Azpilicueta, muscled the Spaniard off the ball and then broke into the penalty area.
His cutback was intercepted by Joriginho, the man Rice would likely replace at Stamford Bridge, but it was a passage of play that highlighted many of the 21-year-old’s qualities.
Rice continued in the same manner in the second period. He was constantly considered on the ball – no player bettered his 98% pass accuracy – and confident to break into the attacking third if space opened up.
There was also one lovely diagonal pass behind Chelsea defence that West Ham should have done more with.
What was particularly noteworthy was, with 25 minutes still to play, Frank Lampard opted to bring off Jorginho. The reason? He wanted greater defensive protection in his midfield.
Jorginho is an excellent passer but he lacks the physicality and mobility to quickly shut down attacks – it’s why N’Golo Kante was shifted into the holding role after the Italian’s departure.
Lampard would not have had to make that change with Rice in his side. That in turn would have enabled the Blues boss greater ability to change up his faltering attacking trio.
There is undoubtedly a home in this Chelsea side for Rice.
Yes, he would be expensive. Very expensive, in fact. But as shown by the strong starts made by Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech – and on the flipside, the inconsistencies of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz – when the Blues have a clear pathway for a new addition, they can elevate Lampard’s side.
Rice would certainly do so. And even in 3-0 defeat, he proved that once more.
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