Gazza or Platt? Gerrard, Lampard or Scholes? Batty or Rob Lee? It seems like every generation of England‘s national team has a question mark of which central midfielders to use. Recently, however, England fans have been disappointed with the players that Southgate seems to have at his disposal. Henderson only seems to be liked by Liverpool and Sunderland fans. Dier isn’t even liked by Spurs fans. Wilshere is yet again plagued by injuries. Fabian Delph can’t get a game in an excellent Man City squad. With the next squad set to be announced soon for games against the Czech Republic and Montenegro, these games could be seen as the perfect time to try and blood some youngsters ahead of the UEFA Nations League semis against Holland in June.
There are a few youngsters that have been staking their claim for an inclusion, but nothing has been spoken about more than the potential battle between two young central midfielders. West Ham‘s Declan Rice and Newcastle United‘s Sean Longstaff.
After coming up through the youth teams for the Republic of Ireland, Rice was given his first Republic of Ireland cap in March 2018 and went on to get three in total. As these were only friendly games, Rice was able to change his International allegiance and did so in February of this year. Rice decided to change his international registration after being approached by England boss Gareth Southgate. This comes after the young midfielder has had a storming first-half-of-the-season with his club. He has played a similar amount of games to last season, however, he has played near 800 more minutes in 2018/2019 than 2017/2018.
The majority of his appearances last season came at centre-back where the youngster often found himself out of his depth. The transition to midfield this season though has seen a remarkable increase in his performances. He has provided that defensive stability while the flair players up front for West Ham can work their magic. Rice seems to enjoy the big occasion with his best performances coming in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool and the 1-0 win over Arsenal, where he scored the deciding goal. Goals are rare for Rice though, and he does seem to prefer the defensive and aerial side to the game rather than bombing forward to join attacks. His average of 0.6 shots per game and 0.3 key passes per game so far this season highlight this fact. 2.7 tackles and 1.6 interceptions a game, however, shows just how integral he is for Pellegrini’s team. Only making 0.4 fouls per game also shows a maturity in his game for someone so young. All of these stats put him on top of the stats pile for West Ham midfielders, including Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang.
During December, Newcastle were having a midfield crisis, injuries to Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame, as well as Ki playing in the Asia Cup, meant that Rafa was struggling. At one point, he had central defender Fabian Schar playing in there. This was until he settled on the most unlikely midfield partnership that Newcastle had ever seen. Wantaway Issac Hayden and youngster Sean Longstaff were thrust together in the away game at Chelsea and immediately impressed.
Newcastle were expected to be beaten heavily but the Blues came across a resolute Newcastle team. In that game, Longstaff had 87.5% passing accuracy, and showed that given more game time, he would be ready to make that midfield place his own. Since that game, Longstaff has started every Premier League game for Newcastle, and played every minute prior to being taken off five minutes before the end of Tuesday’s game against Burnley. He walked off to a standing ovation having scored the important second goal with that game providing the Magpies with their fourth win out of the seven starts that Longstaff has made. Longstaff has been compared with another Geordie midfielder in Michael Carrick for his composure on the ball and passing accuracy. If he has half the career that Carrick did, he will be a very special player, indeed.
|Declan Rice||Comparison||Sean Longstaff|
|0.6||Shots Per Game||1.00|
|2.7||Tackles Per Game||2.00|
|0.3||Key Passes Per Game||0.5|
|0.8||Dribbles Per Game||0.6|
|1.9||Aerial Battles Won||1.1|
So, despite being a year younger, Rice is clearly the more experienced player but Longstaff does hold his own when it comes to the stats. If both players continue to perform as well as they have been, England could have a very bright future.
We should be looking at how to play both players rather than comparing them. Rice to be the defensive stability and Longstaff to provide the forward momentum that he is good at. Is it too early to label them as the next Gerrard/Lampard? Yes, but with both players being under the age of 23, there is more than enough time for them to get even better.
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