Manuel Lanzini’s finish at Crystal Palace was special, but Declan Rice’s role in West Ham’s second goal requires further investigation. His clever scanning helps explain why he has become one of the Premier League’s most accomplished midfielders.
When the ball was played on Jarrod Bowen’s feet, Rice’s first glance was behind him. There was a second glance ahead to check which space he had to run into. As Bowen passed him, he followed a third glance forward before he had even received the ball.
Once Rice had possession and was running straight to the palace door, his head was not down. Even then, especially then, it was scanning. There were three more looks at Lanzini, building an image as the attack developed before finally playing the pass.
Geir Jordet has been analyzing the importance of scanning since 1998, among the first to actually do it. Professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, he did his dissertation and PhD on the role of vision, perception and anticipation in high-level performance.
“The scan doesn’t tell us everything,” said Jordet Sky Sports this summer, “but it gives us a little window into the visual awareness process these players have. It’s a taste of the extent to which these players are aware of their surroundings.”
Studies suggest that the average player scans about three to four times in the 10 seconds before receiving the ball. In that brief game pass in Selhurst Park on New Year’s Day, Rice scanned six different occasions in just eight seconds.
With Rice, it’s not just the quantity of its scan, but the quality of it. “Don’t just watch, but feel what’s happening,” says Jordet. “And finally use it to guide your actions.” Rice recognized where the space was and also chose the right passage to take.
He knows all about the scan, citing it as an example of what he admires about England teammate and friend Mason Mount. That understanding of what it takes to be successful is only part of why Rice is evolving into such a great player.
He has surpassed already high expectations this season with West Ham, improving once again and inspiring a team that is now fifth in the standings. A player once seen as a long-term defender is now proving that there is so much more to his game.
“I’m not just a defensive midfielder anymore. I’ve always been labeled as one who just stands in front of the four defenders, now I really want to see myself as a box-to-box player where I can get up and down and create things as well as go back and help too. the team”.
West Ham’s second goal was a prime example of the focused ball transport Rice added to his game. Statistics show that his number of passes for 90 minutes has increased year on year during his five seasons as a Premier League player.
He is in second place for ball brought by midfielders in the competition this season, behind only Bernardo Silva. The Manchester City man is a very different player, to remember that these are not the numbers of a traditional containment midfielder. But Rice does this side too.
He is in the top five midfielders for tackles and tops the list for interceptions. He regains possession for his team more often than anyone else in his position – Rodri is second – and there was a good example of that early on in the first goal at Palace.
Rice punctured the ball wide for Vladimir Coufal – highlighting his range of passing – but he was also in the right place to get it back when Bowen was dispossessed. Sweeping, he spread the game to Ben Johnson who fed Said Benrahma. He went through. Michail Antonio scored.
These were just two of the 521 passes Rice has completed in the opposing half this season, ranking among the best. His passing is orderly and his range is developing, although David Moyes has identified it as an aspect of his game that can improve.
The West Ham boss recently suggested the examples of Rodri, Jorginho and Frenkie de Jong as good scorers for Rice, while pointing out that he is a different type of player. Rice can pass the ball but frankly even if he couldn’t he would be a top player.
“If you looked from the other side of the game, Declan is as good as anyone else at retrieving the ball and speed around the court,” explained Moyes. “I really can’t think of many other midfield players like Declan in that mold really.”
A tackler and a ball carrier, someone who can win him back and then take responsibility for what to do next. That is enough to place him in the high-end of Europe’s midfielders and, given that Rice turns 23 on January 14, further progress can be expected.
When Jordet first analyzed the crawl in the Premier League many years ago, his findings were revealing. “In that sample, numbers one and two were Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. They were the first two scanners. That tells you something.”
West Ham fans won’t like the thought of Rice following the exact same career path as Lampard, but they can be sure he is on a similar trajectory. In fact, it takes little more than a glance to understand that he is becoming the complete midfielder.