Jamie Redknapp doesn’t believe West Ham’s midfield partnership of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek offers the right blend of attributes to dominate games.
The Rice-Soucek double-pivot has been one of the cornerstones of David Moyes’ second tenure at the club, with the Scot having initially thwarted threats of relegation in 2019/20, to guiding the club to last season’s Europa League semi-final.
They have forged an understanding built on athleticism, grit and tenacity, but one or two fans have started to question whether there is enough ball-playing fluidity between the pair to really dominate possession and hog the ball — a notion shared by Redknapp.
During his punditry work for Sky Sports in the aftermath of West Ham’s 1-0 loss to Man Utd, the former midfielder explained: “I look at that West Ham midfield and I am not convinced by Soucek and Rice as a partnership.
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“A long-standing partnership has its positives but I am talking about certain games where you need creativity.
“Now of course Soucek will offer you, he’s great in the air, set pieces for and against. He’s important. But when I’m looking at someone, I look at Declan and he wants to pop a little pass around the corner he’s not quite there, because it’s not Soucek’s game.
“It isn’t Soucek’s game. You’ve got (Pablo) Fornals, (Saidi) Benrahma can play in there, (Flynn) Downes, (Lucas) Paqueta is injured, but I just feel with those two, it doesn’t feel there is any flow when you have two players who are so similar in there.”
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Neville, working alongside Redknapp at Old Trafford, chimed in with his own assessment, suggesting Moyes utilises Soucek in a similar way to how Marouane Fellaini used to operate at Everton and Man Utd — but the former right-back believes the game has moved on since then and even defensive midfielders should be highly-skilled with their feet.
He said: “Rodri at City, Fabinho, Casemiro they can play. A holding player isn’t now a negative thing.
“It is someone who intercepts, starts attacks, can play on the half-turn and play passes to more creative players. Soucek isn’t the best at that.”
We pre-empted Redknapp’s concern back in March and decided to find Rice’s perfect midfielder partner. Taking all the best bits from Soucek’s game and elevating to another level, Sergej-Milinkovic and Mikel Merino seemed to be the ideal candidates…