Paul Merson fears West Ham star Declan Rice could get overrun in England midfield
Paul Merson showed how little he knows about West Ham and Declan Rice in a baffling comment about England’s midfield ahead of the European Championships.
The Irons star is gearing up for his first international tournament with The Three Lions, and he looks set to be one of the first names on Gareth Southgate’s teamsheet for their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia on Sunday.
There is some debate, though, over who should partner him in midfield, with Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips the main contenders.
Some fans have even called for Rice to hold the fort on his own with attacking midfielders like Mason Mount and Phil Foden flanking him.
However, Sky Sports pundit Merson has cast major concerns over the make-up of England’s midfield, suggesting that they do not possess the intensity required to compete at the top, unless Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham is handed a starting role.
“Bellingham gives you that, he has more energy than Henderson,” Merson told the Daily Star.
“He has more legs, he’s so composed and confident you’d think he’d played 500 games already.
“Against the best teams in the finals, we won’t get away with playing Declan Rice and Mason Mount in midfield. Or Rice and Henderson. We’ll get overrun.
“But stick Bellingham in there and he solves that problem. He’s a real all-rounder, and he’s ready. He’s proved that in the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund.”
We’re not sure if Merson is advocating for Bellingham in a trio with Rice and either Henderson or Mount, or just in a two with Rice, but we believe he is severely underestimating the Irons midfielder and his ability to dominate the midfield.
Rice is a colossus in many aspects – he has the defensive nous to intercept dangerous balls threaded through midfield, he has the tenacity to snap into tackles when needed, and he’s a powerhouse when required, barging opposition players over and assuming possession.
That’s before we begin to wax lyrical about his technical qualities.
Rice has operated in a two-man midfield for some time now, with the 2020/21 campaign seeing him forge a formidable partnership with Tomas Soucek.
The Czech Republic international is not exactly famed for his mobility or ability to get around the pitch at breakneck speed, yet he and the Irons have thrived in a 4-2-3-1 formation under David Moyes.
The four attacking talents are given the freedom to roam, as is Soucek to an extent, while Rice sweeps up and does the dirty work.. Why can he do that for England?
Merson wasn’t showing huge disrespect to Rice or West Ham as such, but we think it just smacks of pure ignorance that he has failed to grasp the enormity of the role that Rice plays for us.
Put anyone next to Rice on Sunday and we will flourish. Rice is the glue who holds everything together.
In other West Ham news, Simon Jordan makes £90m Declan Rice transfer claim.