Irish teenager praised on Match of the Day for first start at centre-back

Declan Rice may have emerged from the toughest test of his professional career so far with a loss, but the Irish underage international has earned plenty of praise, writes Stephen Barry.

The 18-year-old was tasked with facing down the league’s most potent attacking team in years on only his third start, and his first at centre-back, but took credit in a battling 2-1 defeat to Manchester City.

Although he lost track of David Silva’s run for the league leaders’ winning goal, former club captain and England international Matthew Upson paid tribute to his fellow defender.

“There are a lot of positives they [West Ham] can draw from the game,” Upson said on Match of the Day 2.

“They defended extremely well, they worked hard and they looked like they had a real structure to their play.

“But this lad [Rice], for his first Premier League start at centre-back – he’s started two before so it’s his third start in the Premier League but they were in midfield – he handled himself brilliantly.

“He was in a back-three and I thought his decision-making, when to come out and when to hold his position in dangerous areas [was good]. He identifies it, releases himself and just tidies up nicely. He did that all afternoon.

“I think it’s natural but I think he has been working on it. It’s something he has been doing in training. I think he’s very aware of tactically improving at such a young age.”

On the winning goal, Upson said Rice won’t have been used to being punished for such a momentary lapse in concentration.

“The goal was very difficult for him. He’s got one eye on [Sergio] Aguero, who he was marking initially, and it’s just that experience.

“At U23 football, you don’t get those kind of deliveries coming into the box. That will be a new experience for him to have somebody like [Kevin] de Bruyne whip that ball in with that kind of quality.

“It’s something that playing time and time again, week-in week-out at this level, he’s just going to get better and better.

“He's so honest in the way that he plays that he'll be seeing Aguero as his responsibility and just the cleverness of Silva's run and the quality of the delivery, it just took his eye off it and managed to get the wrong side of him.”

Phil Neville added: “He did play really well. The test now is can he do it against Chelsea in the next game and can he do it against Arsenal?”

New manager David Moyes also praised Rice, although he believes that improvement needs to be sustained in a difficult run of games.

“I’d have thought if you’re a centre-half dealing with that [the cross for the winning goal], you’d head it away,” said Moyes.

“But you’ve got to remember we’re playing a young 18-year-old centre-half who played really well.

“They’ve shown heart and character but I’ve seen that in training every day. They’re a really good group of boys and they’re working hard to get away from trouble.

“Against the top teams you’ve got to do it for 90 minutes, not 70 or 80, and we’ve got some other big games coming up.”


By Stephen Barry

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