West Ham United star Manuel Lanzini has backed teammate Declan Rice to eclipse the midfield exploits of Barcelona legend Javier Mascherano.
Mascherano had a brief stint with the Hammers in 2006 but truly made his name as one of world football’s leading midfield enforcers at both Liverpool and Barcelona.
Could Rice become better than Mascherano? Five key things to know…
- A product of West Ham’s esteemed academy, Rice has been a revelation for the club this season.
- Although a centre-back by trade, Manuel Pellegrini has utilised Rice in midfield, and he has flourished as a result.
- Pellegrini recently lauded him as a “complete player” after opening his account against Arsenal, while Tony Cascarino called him better than Spurs’ Eric Dier.
- Rice has been instrumental this season and Lanzini believes he is the “heart” of West Ham.
- Mascherano has previously clinched Barcelona’s Player of the Season in 2014, but Lanzini believes Rice can exceed his compatriot.
Capable of playing in defence and midfield, Mascherano forged a formidable reputation for his versatility; comparable with Rice, who has also played at centre-back and central midfield.
And Lanzini, who has previously played alongside Mascherano for the Argentina national team, believes he has seen enough of Rice, who netted in the 2-0 win over Newcastle on Saturday, to suggest he will transcend the current Hebei China Fortune player.
“Declan is the heart of the team,” Lanzini told reporters. “He’s very young but it is like he has played 200 games.
“It is amazing to watch him and I like to be in the team with him because he has a good touch, good recovery and he is one of the best players in the Premier League.
“I have played with Mascherano and he is a very good player.
“Declan has started so well and he needs to continue like this. If he stays focused he can be better than Mascherano.”
Rice has recently been given the green light to switch allegiances from the Republic of Ireland to England after FIFA stated: “The change of association has been approved.”
England manager Gareth Southgate will now have the option to include Rice when he announces his squad on March 13 for Euro 2020 qualifying matches against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
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Lanzini: ‘Our aim is seventh’
After a tumultuous start to the season which saw Pellegrini lose his opening four matches in the Premier League, the club have transformed their fortunes and are now targeting a seventh-placed finish.
Lanzini will be key to that pursuit, having recently returned from a long-term injury, and West Ham fans are buoyed by the prospect of their fully-fit talisman linking up with Felipe Anderson, with a partnership already blossoming according to the Argentine ace.
“I think Felipe likes players such as myself. We understand each other,” said the 26-year-old.
“And we play in a similar way. It’s easy to play with him. We have other good players, though, and when we are all fit and together, I think we are a strong team.
“We are only four points away from seventh place in the Premier League table. In this League, you never know what will happen but it is our objective to finish in that position.”
Next up for West Ham is an away trip to Cardiff City on Saturday.