This article is part of Football FanCast’s Pundit View series, which provides opinion and analysis on recent quotes from journalists, pundits, players and managers…
Danny Mills has told talkSPORT (18/11/2019 at 06.32) that Jordan Henderson should be England’s holding midfielder.
Henderson missed out on both of the Three Lions’ fixtures during this latest international break. He was suspended for the first clash, against Montenegro, whilst he was ill for the second, versus Kosovo.
However, considering he has 55 caps for his country and played a part in seven of the eight matches before the last two, he is likely to feature at Euro 2020 next summer. According to former Liverpool player Mills, he should play in a more defensive position. He explained:
“The age he’s at now, the experience that he has, the authority that he has in the middle there to play that holding role – he can still get forward, of course he can.
“There are better creative players ahead of him. That’s the point. Jordan Henderson is a fabulous player. If you’re gonna play one holding midfield player out and out – it’s not quite his position that he plays at Liverpool – but he would be, I think, the best player to play in that role.”
In all but one of those fixtures for his countries, he has played in a central midfield position. Declan Rice, meanwhile, has earned all seven of his caps from a defensive midfield role. The former Republic of Ireland U21 international is the man he will likely have to displace there.
But how do the two match up? Let’s take a look at their form for their clubs last term in the Premier League. 20-year-old Rice plays for West Ham, whilst Henderson plays his football at Anfield. From a defensive point of view, it is the former who looks best suited to get the nod.
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In the previous campaign, £45m-valued Rice – as per Transfermarkt – averaged 2.9 tackles per game. To put that into perspective, it was within the top ten in the whole top tier. The former Sunderland man, meanwhile, managed just 1.4. In terms of interceptions, the younger player led the way with 1.5 compared to 0.8, whilst he also gave away just 0.5 fouls per match in comparison to 0.8.
Going forward, there is actually not too much to separate the two. Henderson has a slightly better pass accuracy, with 87.2% compared to his rival’s 86.4%, whilst he contributed to four goals directly. That was two more than Rice managed. Again, in terms of key passes, it was Henderson who led the way with 0.5 to 0.3, showing there was little difference between the two.
The answer seems pretty clear: Rice is a better fit for the defensive midfield position. Henderson, of course, still has a role to play for his country – he is the captain of the league leaders, after all – but it is not where Mills thinks he should play. Southgate will have to find another use for him.