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Is West Ham United’s Declan Rice the missing piece of the puzzle?



Transfers, rumours, news

It looks like FC Bayern Munich will also lose their third major title this season. One reason for this is the lack of balance in midfield. Rumor has it that Declan Rice is a candidate to change that. But is the Englishman the missing piece of the puzzle? An analysis.

Three or four long, powerful steps, then he falls to the ground and begins to straddle. Fair Declan Rice separates his opponent from the ball and cleans up a dangerous situation for West Ham United in the six box. A scene seen in almost every Hammers game this season.

Tackle odds rarely tell a player’s story. In fact, they are worthless on their own. A player who wins 40 percent of their defensive duels can be more important for defense than someone who wins 60 percent. With Rice, however, the numbers and subjective feeling match: According to the data from , he counts with 62 percent of duels won Opta one of the top three midfielders in the Premier League.

He wins many of these duels in important zones in front of his own defense or by defending the opponent’s switching situations from the start. With an impressive mix of physique and skill, he has attracted the attention of various top clubs. Among them is FC Bayern Munich, which has created a major problem for itself in recent years, especially on the six. Is Rice the solution?

FC Bayern Munich: Since 2020 without six

In principle, the Munich team has been playing without a real six since the 2020 Champions League triumph. At that time, Thiago left the record champions. The Spaniard was often underestimated and mainly limited to his outstanding technique. Besides his resistance to pressing, perhaps the most important quality was that he was very strong in one-on-one combat.

Thiago had his back for other midfielders and was almost always there in the reverse movement. He stabilized the midfield with and against the ball. To date, he has not been adequately replaced. The squad planners on Säbener Straße were hoping that Joshua Kimmich could take on this role. But Hansi Flick, Julian Nagelsmann and now Thomas Tuchel know how important the 28-year-old is with his chip balls for the offensive.

Kimmich’s offensive urge probably has little to do with the fact that he can’t play more disciplined. Against Borussia Dortmund, for example, he held his position very consistently in the first game under Tuchel. Only the attacking game suffered from it. In addition, Kimmich is not the best duel and is too often boiled off by physically stronger players.

FC Bayern Munich: Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich are not a perfect match

That’s why the national player needs a partner who gives him freedom. Leon Goretzka was seen as the ideal complement at Bayern and also at the DFB. But especially in the big games it often becomes clear that the native of Bochum is not. Goretzka also has his strengths mainly in the game up front when he can generate dynamics and support the attacking series with deep runs. However, he has problems in the six space. Defensively, his positional play is often not good, and he hardly takes part in the build-up of the game.

It is therefore also significant that the Kimmich-Goretzka duo did not appear together in midfield during their greatest success in recent history. At the final tournament of the Champions League, Benjamin Pavard was out and so Kimmich moved to the right defensive side. As a stabilizing factor in midfield, Thiago was able to ensure that Bayern’s game gained balance.

The fact that Kimmich and Goretzka were still seen as the ideal midfield pair took revenge in the years that followed whenever opponents had the quality to systematically take Kimmich out of the game. It also happened too often in defensive behavior that neither of the two held their position on the six and opponents could thus repeatedly create danger via the center.

FC Bayern Munich: Declan Rice as modern Javi Martínez?

Rice can help here. With his discipline and strength in the duel, the Englishman is the ideal man for the individual tactical problems in Bayern’s midfield. He has demonstrated that at West Ham as well as for the national team. Especially in the last two years he has made immense progress as a so-called “anchor six”.

So as a central midfielder who works very consistently in the six space. Maintaining possession by constantly running free and offering to support centre-backs. When working against the ball through a lot of discipline and positional loyalty. This not only requires footballing qualities, but also very good decision-making and the self-confidence to take responsibility and coach other players.

At just 24, Rice has become a leader in his teams, able to combine offense and defense. For FC Bayern, he could become the modern Javi Martínez. The Basque arrived in Munich in 2012 and ensured that Bastian Schweinsteiger flourished alongside him. He was the piece of the puzzle missing for Bayern to win the club’s first treble. Rice could have a similar effect on Kimmich.

FC Bayern Munich: Declan Rice is more than a duel

But the game has changed in recent years. A pure destroyer in front of the defense is often no longer enough. The requirements for a six are more holistic. As pressing has increased in quality both tactically and physically in the 2010s, teams that rely on orderly playmaking with short passes need more players who are technically able to withstand the pressure.

In this respect, clubs that have a lot of ball possession can no longer afford classic sweepers if they cannot participate in the build-up of the game. Martínez was a solid point guard, but no more. And Rice?

He is definitely underestimated when it comes to technical and playing skills. Although West Ham have the third-lowest ball possession percentage in the Premier League with 41.1 percent, the right-footed player averages 67.4 touches per 90 minutes. If that were extrapolated to Manchester City’s 65 percent ball possession rate, he would be similar to Rodri’s (101.9 touches per 90 minutes).

Rice moves a lot in the space of six and is always looking for interfaces. He has a good sense of when to leave his position and when it is better to hold it. Above all, he can keep control even under pressure.

The West Ham captain can calm down a game, but he can also speed it up. He feels a little more comfortable on the half-left side than in the right half-space, but he has already played several roles successfully in his career – as a more offensive eight or as a central defender. The midfielder is not a sprinter, but he can use his physical advantages very well and defend extensively, for example.

But even with short dribbles, it helps him that he is technically and physically very strong. An underestimated quality of Rice is that he always manages to overrun one or two players and thus open up new game situations for his team.

FC Bayern Munich: The (P)Rice decides

On paper, Rice is a player who could actually become the missing piece of the puzzle for Bayern’s midfield. He brings everything with him to eliminate the problems on the six and to support Kimmich in bringing in his strengths even more consistently.

But even if FC Bayern comes to the same conclusion, there is a major hurdle to overcome: other top clubs are also interested and West Ham are said to be demanding a transfer fee in the hundreds of millions. Although the Bavarians benefit from the fact that the player’s contract expires in 2024, it is foreseeable that the competition is willing to put a lot of money on the table.

Arsenal FC is said to have already made a first offer of around 80 million euros. For FC Bayern, the question is whether Rice is worth this price – or whether there are other alternatives in terms of sport. Especially since the transfer of a new center forward will use up a lot of resources. So far, Bayern have not been known for spending record sums for two players at the same time. There is no question that they can do it economically. But do they want that too?

If they’re not willing to do that, you’ll have to prioritize. So far, the search for a striker has been the hottest transfer topic in Munich. But that could be a serious mistake. Here, too, it might be worth taking a look back to 2012, when Bayern spent what was then a record amount for Martínez and strengthened the attack with a relatively cheap variant: Mario Mandzukic.

The situation was different because the attack was already well manned even without Mandzukic. But the biggest difference in this historic season was the new six. In recent years, FC Bayern has saved in the wrong places. Maybe it’s time to go a little more on the offensive. After all, you could pay even more dearly if you didn’t try to steer Rice to Munich for the wrong motives – and the construction site in midfield remained. That’s where big games are really decided. Often against FC Bayern in the past.

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