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Rice and Soucek are West Ham’s beating heart driving club to new level

K

eeping Declan Rice was viewed as one of the biggest successes of West Ham’s summer transfer window.

In truth, their resolve was never tested after a bid from Chelsea did not materialise despite strong interest from Frank Lampard.

But West Ham always made it clear they had no interest in selling Rice and this season the 21-year-old has taken his game to a new level.

But he has not done it alone.

Rice’s positioning and protection has always been exemplary, but his work is being matched by Tomas Soucek alongside him.

The Czech midfielder, who made his loan move from Slavia Prague permanent over the summer, has covered more ground than any other Hammers player in all but one game this season, when Pablo Fornals outran him by 0.2 of a kilometre.

Much credit has, rightly, gone to Aaron Cresswell, Angelo Ogbonna and Michail Antonio during West Ham’s good run that has lifted them up to eighth and just four points off the top four. But Rice and Soucek in the middle of the park are the beating heart of the team.

Their hard work and knack – especially in Rice’s case – of always being in the right place at the right time to snuff out any attempt at a counter-attack is invaluable to those around them. It gives West Ham a platform which allows not only the forwards to thrive, but also gives Vladimir Coufal and Arthur Masuaku the confidence to fly forward and cause problems, safe in the knowledge that their backs are covered.

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Rice’s midfield partnership with Tomas Soucek has proven invaluable to the Hammers

/ POOL/AFP via Getty Images )

“I’ve played in midfield for the last three seasons and I think a lot of people get carried away with what they want me to do,” Rice said before the Sheffield United game.

“My role is a holding midfielder and there’s not really any flair in that. I’m disciplined, I make sure I’m always available for the team, I’m always in position, I get my passes off quick, I intercept and I tackle. I think a lot of people want to see things like stepovers and I’ve got that in the locker, but that’s not my role.”

It may not be Rice’s responsibility to chip in going forward, but neither he or Soucek are shy when the chance presents itself. Both could have scored at Bramall Lane, with Soucek firing wide from close range and Rice heading against the crossbar from a corner.

Rice, who came back to West Ham fresh from scoring his first England goal against Iceland, has namechecked Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele and Yaya Toure as midfielders he wants to emulate with driving runs from deep, while Moyes wants to see more goals from his game. The odd goal would be nice, but the work he and Soucek do week in, week out is more valuable than anything.

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West Ham have risen to eighth in the Premier League after back-to-back wins over Fulham and Sheffield United

/ POOL/AFP via Getty Images )

Rice is going from strength to strength for club and country, and alongside Soucek he is forming one of the most effective midfield double acts in the Premier League.

“He is such an improved player,” Moyes said of Rice.

“The role, his responsibility he takes on the pitch because of his young age, his leadership qualities will build. He has learned from Harry Kane, Mark Noble – I really think he is doing a great job as a player and we are building up hope that he will be an outstanding captain.

“My bigger concern – and I know he is young – would be that I don’t want us to rely too heavily on him. But you would have to say that Tomas Soucek as well is doing a great job.

“Sometimes maybe being British we look at the players who are doing well here, but Tomas Soucek has done a brilliant job alongside.”

With the transfer window reopening in January, West Ham could be fending off more interest in Rice in the coming months. But there is no chance they will let their crown jewel go mid-season and, for now, Moyes can watch on in delight at what he and his midfield partner are doing to help drive the Hammers to another level.


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