Jack (@isoncfc) reviews Declan Rice’s performance against the Blues and the role he might play at Chelsea under Frank Lampard.
The return to football had gone seamlessly for Chelsea in this post-lockdown world. Two wins in the Premier League and a handy win over Leicester City in the FA Cup sowed the seeds of optimism among Blues fans. So, it was only inevitable that they were brought back down to earth against a West Ham United side in the middle of a relegation dogfight.
The transfer window may have only technically been open one day, but Chelsea have been the busiest team by far with the acquisitions of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner having been pre-arranged. Both these transfers were of course completed before the end of last financial year . And so, as off Wednesday, we begin again with a new war chest.
In the preview for Wednesday’s game against West Ham, I previously highlighted Declan Rice as a “One to Watch” for the Hammers. The Englishman didn’t disappoint and looked commanding in midfield and whilst he is very good there, it’s another position Chelsea want him for.
Some fans may question the need for Declan Rice when we already have a player who fits a similar profile in the form of Ethan Ampadu. Ampadu is around two years younger than Rice but is at a very different point in his development. Despite a good performance against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League, Ampadu’s opportunities in Germany have been fairly limited. Next season Chelsea should focus on finding the Welshman a suitable Premier League loan. If he impresses, there is no reason why the two cannot coexist given their versatiliy.
Whilst Declan Rice may currently play in midfield for West Ham, The Athletic reports that Frank Lampard can see a spot for Rice in the centre of his defence. Having refused to talk about Rice in his pre-game press conference whilst actively dismissing any talk of Angel Gomes, it’s fair to say Lampard has had his head turned by Rice.
Despite his place in West Ham’s midfield last night, Rice has in fact spent the majority of his career in defence and would undoubtedly make an excellent ball playing centre-back. Chelsea currently have four centre-backs in the squad in the form of Antonio Rüdiger, Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori and Andreas Christensen. But frankly, it is extremely difficult to set them apart and only Rüdiger is consistently a level below the other three. Something the first West Ham goal showed was a complete lack of organisation and leadership in the defence with Tomáš Souček being allowed a free header at goal.
Rice may only be 21, but last night he captained a West Ham side in the absence of Mark Noble despite being the youngest player in Claret and Blue. Few players can garner such respect from their team mates at that age but Rice leads both through his on-field quality as well as his persona and would be the perfect long-term solution to Chelsea’s defensive issues. It’s not often you can sign a 21 year old and instantly know they will have come with natural leadership. Furthermore, he has years and years in front of him to get even better.
Last night’s performance will have done little to push negotiations in Chelsea favour. A Chelsea win last night would’ve left West Ham in an extremely difficult position as far as their relegation battle was concerned. However, last night’s win and the demolition of Bournemouth by Newcastle has put them in a good position to stay up. Therefore, Rice will not come cheap. Currently, I would speculate that West Ham will want between £50 and £65 million for the player they’ve developed. As we know, Chelsea currently have a fair amount of deadwood in the squad they’re looking to shift to likely candidates for some kind of swap would surely be Michy Batshuayi or Ross Barkley.
Against his boyhood club Declan Rice was always going to look to make a statement and he certainly did that. He’s played for West Ham consistently since 2017 but is surely considering the long-term direction the club is now going in having seen little improvement in his time there. If Chelsea come calling for Rice this summer, he will without a doubt be transferring from West to East London.
West Ham vs Chelsea – Full Match Review
West Ham vs Chelsea – Player Ratings