Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson thinks Declan Rice will leave West Ham this summer and says Manchester United have “got to break the bank” to get the midfielder.
United are reportedly interested in Rice, but are said to be facing competition from Chelsea and Manchester City for the England international, who has left his agent to be represented by his dad.
Rice will still have two years left on his contract at the end of the season, and West Ham have extra negotiating power in the shape of an option to extend by an additional 12 months.
It is understood that they will demand £100m for Rice – the same fee Manchester City paid Aston Villa for Jack Grealish last summer.
But Merson does not expect that to get in the way of Rice securing a big move away.
“I think Declan Rice will be gone this summer,” Merson told Sky Sports. “I think it will be Man Utd, if you’re Man Utd you’ve got to break the bank.
“If you look at their midfield it is not strong enough, they don’t dominate football matches and for me, they have to go and get him.
“I think he is the best in the business, he has improved immensely, he has taken his game up not one or two, I think he has taken it up ten-fold.
“From a holding midfield player, he is bombing forward, scoring goals, getting chances, and making goals. I can’t talk highly enough of the lad, I think he’s been absolutely phenomenal.
“Chelsea could go and get him but they could do without him. They’ve still got Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante – three unbelievable midfield players and they dominate football matches.
“But you look at Man Utd and the midfield isn’t strong enough to win anything really.”
Whether Rice would choose United over Chelsea – the club he supported and played for growing up, remains to be seen – but his comments after last month’s stoppage-time defeat at Old Trafford certainly got fans talking.
“I was loving it,” he told Sky Sports. “Every time I come to Old Trafford, I’ve always said it’s one of my favourite places to play.
“It’s an amazing stadium.”
Analysis: What would Rice bring to United?
Sky Sports’ Zinny Boswell:
United are crying out for a specialist defensive midfielder, which is why they plan to strengthen in the position this summer, with Wolves’ Ruben Neves and Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara on their list as well as Rice. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick has spoken about United’s shortcomings in possession and said there is a “profile missing” in the team, but is Rice the answer to their problems? Here we take a look…
What are their current options?
Scott McTominay and Fred – otherwise known as McFred – were the go-to options under former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and appear to remain the preferred choice of Rangnick, with the pair starting 80 and 79 per cent of the team’s league matches since the start of last season respectively.
The McFred axis provides United with a lot of energy in midfield and has been extremely useful in keeping things tight defensively – when both players start, United concede 0.4 fewer goals per game than when one or both is missing. In the 46 matches in which one of the McFred duo has not started, United have lost 13 times, while in the 45 games they have started together, United have lost just seven times. But their limitations on the ball continue to hold the team back, as they struggle to control and dictate play.
Nemanja Matic is ideally suited to the defensive midfield role but, as he approaches 34, the Serbia international has been used more sparingly and can’t be relied on week-in-week-out. Meanwhile, Paul Pogba has struggled when asked to play as the deep-lying midfielder, and has always flourished most when paired with a more defensive-focused partner – as he has done for France playing alongside Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante or Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni. Both Pogba and Matic could be gone this summer, though, with their contracts due to expire and no decision made on their futures.
How does Rice compare?
One of Rice’s main strengths, which he has developed over this season, has been his ability to carry the ball and drive West Ham forward, drawing comparison’s to former United captain Roy Keane in the process. As seen in the graphic, he carries the ball almost 19 times per 90 minutes – which is more than all of United’s midfielders except for Matic. But it is important to factor in that the Serbian has played less than half the minutes of Rice in the league this season, giving us a smaller sample size. Rice’s numbers, though, are far superior to those of McTominay (13.91) and Fred (7.86).
Defensively, United have come undone this season, with teams appearing to play through them with ease – the 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool comes to mind. As the below graphic shows, the only one of United’s players that can compete with Rice in this category is Matic. Rice is dribbled past once per 90 minutes, while Matic is beaten 0.95 times per 90 minutes. McTominay is more competitive in this area, but Fred’s deficiencies are clear to see, as he is dribbled past more than twice per 90 minutes.
A quick glance at the table comparing tackles, recoveries and passes completed per 90 minutes shows that Rice is competing consistently across all categories, but not necessarily a top performer. Matic continues to match Rice’s numbers in most key areas, which suggests Rice could be a suitable long-term replacement for the former Chelsea midfielder.
If we compare Rice to McTominay and Fred, we can see that the West Ham man is the top performer in terms of interceptions and passes completed per 90. These are two key areas in defensive midfield, as it shows Rice has the ability to break up play at a high rate – he is ranked 27th in the Premier League – while also being able to drive the passing game of a team that has on average five per cent less possession than United and completes 80 fewer passes per game.
In addition to this, Rice’s passing accuracy (90.6 per cent) – ranked 11th in the Premier League – is clearly superior to any of the options United currently have in midfield, something which could help their struggles in terms of ball retention. Also, the England international is more adept at avoiding being dispossessed, losing the ball just 0.4 times per 90 minutes. Meanwhile, McTominay and Fred are dispossessed at least once every game on average. Matic, the United player who is dispossessed the least, is still losing the ball 0.95 times per 90 minutes, while Pogba is dispossessed almost twice every game – a figure which reflects, in part, the fact he often plays higher up the pitch.