Declan Rice shuts out noise about his future as West Ham midfielder is rewarded for forward thinking

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Declan Rice insisted this week that talk over his future was not distracting him from performing for West Ham — and he backed up those comments in stellar fashion last night.

The England international was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch at the London Stadium, as his second goal in as many Europa League appearances and Said Benrahma’s late strike put the Hammers three points clear at the top of their group.

Just two games into this European adventure and West Ham and Rice already look at home at this level.

Rice was commanding in midfield and a threat going forward. Having seen an early headed effort hit the post, the 22-year-old became the first West Ham player to score in a home European match since Frank Lampard in 1999.

Starting the move on his own halfway line with a pass to Benrahma, Rice charged into the six-yard box as the ball moved forward via a fine Andriy Yarmolenko clip into the path of Michail Antonio. The Hammers striker squared for Rice, who tapped home as he continues to make good on his efforts to score more goals this season.

Rice is the first West Ham player to score on his first two European appearances since David Cross in 1980 and is relishing the chance to get further forward on the pitch.

“When I knew I was playing with Nobes [Mark Noble], I said that I was going to try and bomb on a bit tonight,” said Rice.

“I said to him I would score. When the situation came, I saw there was a bit of space to run into — and if you don’t make the runs, you won’t get a chance. To score again is a nice feeling. I wish it could be every week!”

There is interest from Manchester United and Chelsea in Rice, who has rejected two new contract offers at West Ham and is valued at £100million.

Rice appears oblivious to the noise, only focusing on his progress with West Ham.

Manager David Moyes said of him: “He’s got the ability to get forward and score goals and we are trying to encourage him to do that.

“Declan is so important to us. He’s young, he’s fit and I feel that part of his development is to play European football.

“You see so many of the England players at the top level, the Champions League on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, playing a Saturday or a Sunday.”

After the commanding victory over Dinamo Zagreb in their Europa League opener, last night presented the chance for West Ham to take hold of their group.

By Moyes’s own admission, his side were not at their best, yet still they cruised through against a tough Rapid Vienna side that featured former Tottenham defender Kevin Wimmer.

Now Moyes will bid to ensure West Ham top the group to avoid the threat of having to face one of the sides who drop down from the Champions League when the knockout stages come around.

Moyes made seven changes from the team that started against Leeds last weekend but his side had everything they needed to kill off the game far earlier than Benrahma’s injury-time strike, the Algerian rewarded for not dropping his head after struggling to make an impact for most of the night.

That West Ham managed to improve upon their superb opening display in the Europa League to maintain their perfect start will, perhaps, lead to a reassessment of what they are capable of in this competition.

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