West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice was David Moyes’ real hero against Fulham on Saturday as the two London sides played out a drab goalless draw at Craven Cottage.
The Hammers had the chance to move into the top-four of the Premier League table with a win but instead were forced to settle for a point, with Michail Antonio spearheading a toothless attack with a lethargic display.
Moyes’ men were often passive and clearly off the pace in south west London after beating Aston Villa 3-1 in midweek, to allow Scott Parker’s side to look the more inventive outfit as they searched for only their third top-flight win of the season.
Aaron Cresswell injected brief moments of excitement into West Ham’s attack with his deliveries frequently causing the Cottagers problems, only for Jarrod Bowen to fail at the final hurdle by rushing in too late to meet the full-back’s most enticing cross of the day.
Vladimir Coufal, Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna and Cresswell all stood well in protecting Lukasz Fabianski’s goal, too, but no visiting player was as important to the Irons securing a point than Rice.
The England international, playing the full 90 minutes for the 62nd-straight time in the Premier League, protected West Ham’s goal idyllically but also had the vision to set the tone for the Hammers when in possession and offer a creative touch.
Rice was the epitome of calm on the ball and produced a delightful cross for Coufal early in the second-half, only for the Czech Republic right-back to smash the crossbar with his header.
His performance came after former West Ham striker Tony Cottee urged the London Stadium natives to hand Rice a new contract, as the club should be rushing to improve his £60,000-per-week terms and fend off interest from the top clubs.
“What are they waiting for? Give the man a three or four-year contract,” Cottee told the Mirror. “If they can offer him European football or win a trophy, it would send a clear signal to Declan Rice that he doesn’t have to go to Chelsea or Manchester United – because he can fulfil his ambitions as the heir apparent [to Mark Noble] in claret and blue.”
While Antonio struggled to get going on Saturday, Rice wasted no time and registered West Ham’s second shot of the day with one of two strikes at Fulham. Only Cottagers trio Ruben Loftus-Cheek (5), Ademola Lookman (5) and Ivan Cavaleiro (3) struck more in the game, per WhoScored.
Rice also boasted the Irons’ only shot directed on target with Bowen, Cresswell, Coufal, Dawson and Tomas Soucek all sending their efforts wide or onto the woodwork to leave Alphonse Areola without any work to do.
The Hammers leaned on Rice to set the tone when in possession, too, with the 22-year-old recording a team-high 71 touches – the fourth-most of everyone in the game – and completing a team-high 45 passes. Only Joachim Andersen (78), Harrison Reed (67) and Tosin Adarabioyo (67) completed more for the hosts.
Yet Rice was not afraid to drive possession up the field, with the £49.5m-rated beast offering one of West Ham’s mere four successful dribbles – no one offered more than one – while Antonio lost possession with each of his two attempts and Said Benrahma in two of his three.
And defensively, Rice eclipsed most of his Irons teammates with a joint-high two successful tackles with Coufal but from a higher success rate at 67% to 50%. He further offered two clearances, a joint game-high two interceptions, never committed a foul and was never dispossessed.
West Ham may have felt the strain of carrying an underperforming and arguably unfit Antonio against Fulham with no alternative on the bench, but they would absolutely fear the prospect of life without Rice.