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Analysis: Declan Rice could be the final piece for England

West Ham United v Burnley FC - Premier League Declan Rice
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The West Ham United midfielder has chosen England over the Republic of Ireland

After a somewhat protracted saga, West Ham United’s Declan Rice has chosen England over the Republic of Ireland. In a well-worded, prepared statement, the Hammers starlet explained the decision and left Irish hearts broken.

The English, meanwhile, could not hide their delight. Rice could be the final piece in Gareth Southgate’s England jigsaw. The Three Lions don’t have a player of his ability at this moment in time.

Anyone who watched them in the World Cup will attest to that. While their run to the semi-finals was glorious in the extreme, it was not smooth sailing by any means. Much of it was to do with how they struggled to control the play and thus the tempo of games.

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 18: Luka Modric of Croatia during the UEFA Nations League A group four match between England and Croatia at Wembley Stadium on November 18, 2018, in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

That is why they struggled against Croatia in the semi-final. Luka Modric took control, and the Croatians became like waves crashing upon English rocks. England could not get out nor control the game as they needed to.

Their lack of a real defensive midfielder was the issue. Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier aren’t good enough for the way Southgate wants his team to play.

The Liverpool captain is full of energy and drive but is not a top-class defensive midfielder. He lacks both the defensive discipline to protect the defence and the passing ability to get his team up the pitch.

While he will play the odd raking, long-range ball up the pitch, they are far too few. Instead, Henderson’s standard is simple; short passes back to his defence.

Dier is the opposite. He is a defensive rock and brilliant at reading the game and breaking up play. It is something he regularly excels at for Tottenham. He does not have the ability going forward, though. His passing range is limited and so is his ability further up the pitch.

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 08: Declan Rice of West Ham United during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on April 8, 2018, in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

England need a man who can do both things. Rice may be the answer. His short time in West Ham’s midfield has indicated he is undoubtedly talented. His 2.6 tackles per game is the best of any Hammers player. Rice is also in their top four players for interceptions and blocks. In other words, he’s a perfect defensive shield.

Going the other way, he’s in West Ham’s top three for passes per game and tops the table for accurate short passes. Of players to play more than ten games for the club this season, only Issa Diop has a better passing accuracy.

Compared to Henderson and Dier he’s also on top. On a per game basis, he beats both when it comes to tackles, interceptions and blocks. He also concedes fewer fouls per game. He’s an undeniable improvement and at 20-years-old will only get better.

The Republic of Ireland are feeling bitter about his decision, and they should be. England may just have got the player that will drive them forward for years to come. Declan Rice has everything to be a star for the Three Lions.