The focus is on maintaining equilibrium. Although there is excitement about the potential of Trent Alexander-Arnold playing in midfield for England, which would allow him to showcase his creative passing skills, it is important to remember that successful national teams typically prioritize a stable midfield.
Gareth Southgate seemed to have this in mind following England’s narrow victory against Malta last Friday. Despite already securing qualification for Euro 2024, Southgate decided to test out Alexander-Arnold, Conor Gallagher, and Jordan Henderson in midfield, but the strategy did not go as planned. Southgate, who substituted Gallagher at halftime, was most likely concerned by the amount of room Malta was able to exploit in front of England’s defense.
The coach is requesting progress as England’s qualification run concludes in North Macedonia on Monday. Southgate is frequently criticized for being overly cautious, but there is a valid reason for his desire for balance. The concern is that England’s midfield struggles without Declan Rice. Malta’s challenges diminished once Rice was substituted in.
There were comparable problems when the ex-West Ham leader was absent for England’s victory against Australia in the previous month. None of the other midfielders possess Rice’s strength. He is the only midfielder who can protect England’s defense and unleash their forwards with such efficiency.
Reworded: The acquisition of Arsenal’s £105m player has solidified his position as one of England’s three indispensable players. The first is undoubtedly Harry Kane, known for his scoring, assists, and leadership. The nation would be in turmoil if Jude Bellingham were to sustain an injury that jeopardized his involvement in next year’s competitions. While there are other talented attacking midfielders, Bellingham stands out as a unique case and could potentially be a game-changer.
However, Rice is equally significant. Other positions have more players available. John Stones is considered England’s top central defender, but Marc Guéhi is a capable replacement. The team has ample depth in the goalkeeper, right-back, and wide areas.
There is no replacement for Rice. Kalvin Phillips has not started a league game for Manchester City this season but is still in the squad. Southgate remains unmoved by calls for James Ward-Prowse and Sean Longstaff. Henderson’s performance against Malta suggested that moving to the Saudi Pro League has left him unable to get around the pitch.
England’s dependence on Rice is evident as he offers stability and protection against Malta. He excels in tackles and has a keen awareness of potential threats, which helps ease the pressure on a sometimes unstable defense. Efficiency is key, rather than just having a surplus of creative players on the field. It seems that Southgate, who has been hesitant to play with only one defensive midfielder in front of two attacking midfielders, would prefer to have both Rice and Phillips as a double pivot in important matches.
Rice acknowledges Gareth’s desire for two defensive midfielders. He acknowledges that the public craves an aggressive and exciting style of play, but as a manager, he understands the importance of having a strong defensive foundation. In his experience playing with Henderson, they have typically operated as a double pivot on paper, but Henderson has the freedom to join the attack. This dynamic remains consistent whether Rice is playing with Kalvin Phillips or Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Declan Rice, the Arsenal record signing, has shown his ability to move forward on the field, as seen when he scored a goal that was later disallowed against Malta. He is currently in a good state of mind and has fully embraced the challenge of his new role. Rice admitted feeling nervous during the transfer process, as it is not a normal experience to be bought for £105m. However, he attributes this feeling to his success at West Ham and is determined to continue playing his own brand of football with Arsenal.
This past year has been successful. Rice’s leadership helped West Ham achieve victory in the Europa Conference League and he continues to make progress.
According to Rice, it’s important to avoid becoming stagnant. At Arsenal, I have a slightly different position and there is discussion about whether I can play further up the field. At West Ham, when I played as a midfielder covering both attack and defense, [David] Moyes would encourage me to move around and do whatever was necessary to get possession of the ball.
“In Arsenal, there is a stronger emphasis on structure and patience. Possession is prioritized, so the focus is on making forward progress. I was used to playing for teams that excelled at counterattacking, so I had to adjust my style.”
Rice, who is set to earn his 48th international appearance against North Macedonia, is known for his ability to adjust and excel. While Arsenal positions him on the left side of a three-man midfield and encourages him to attack, England relies on his disciplined play in a more defensive position.
There is a lot of excitement surrounding Bellingham, and Alexander-Arnold must have a deeper grasp of the position and should be tested in midfield against tough opponents.
However, credit must be given to the player who is the driving force behind the team’s success. Without Rice, England’s performance in the Euros would be limited. He is the essential element that keeps everything functioning smoothly.