In the aftermath of West Ham’s win over Manchester United, as David Moyes talked up the “opportunity” for development in his midfield three, the elephant in the room did not need addressing, only because he had given it a nod.
“That’s why he’s going to be expensive if anybody comes calling.”
The rebuilding job following Rice’s expected departure this summer will be huge, no matter how much the transfer kitty is boosted by what the club hope will be a nine-figure fee.
Heck, the building one has not been cheap, given Lucas Paqueta was a club-record £50million purchase last summer, the playmaker’s creativity seen, on paper at least, as the perfect complement to the industry of Rice and Tomas Soucek.
The reality has been underwhelming through much of the season. Rice has, in the main, remained outstanding, but Paqueta has taken time to find his feet and Soucek has looked a shadow of the player that was such a hit early on at the Hammers.
Only now is West Ham’s midfield beginning to resemble a high-functioning unit, with Paqueta’s command growing and Soucek’s significant presence in both boxes again outweighing his deficiencies between them.
“They have got the opportunity to be a really well-balanced midfield, because they all offer different things,” Moyes said, the caveat being that the window for that opportunity is, in all likelihood, only a month and five or six games long.
That it has taken until now for what looked a straightforward plan — one built around starting midfield players for England and Brazil — to come to fruition must be a source of frustration to Moyes.
The wait, and likely short-lived end product, will all be worth it, however, should the campaign end with European silverware, now the outright priority, with safety secured and AZ Alkmaar to come in Thursday’s Conference League semi-final first leg.
West Ham have obvious deficiencies that the lively Dutch side will target, most notably at full-back and in the heart of defence for as long as Kurt Zouma remains out. There is nothing left in the competition, though, to match a midfield that finally looks like the sum of its parts.