Leeds United fans have initiated a rivalry with West Ham United over their defensive midfielders Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips.

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Even before Leeds were promoted back to the Premier League, their supporters had claimed Phillips was better than West Ham hero Rice.

There are similarities. And both can play in central midfield and central defence.

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Leeds conjure rivalry with West Ham over Rice and Phillips

Like Rice, Phillips is a fine player. But he lacks the pace, power and game intelligence that Rice has in abundance.

And the Leeds argument is simply not backed up by the statistics. Indeed it is not backed up by Gareth Southgate either. The Three Lions boss prefers West Ham’s 21-year-old midfield enforcer to the 24-year-old Leeds United man.

Well now respected journalist Oliver Holt has delivered another blow to the Leeds campaign for Phillips with a claim that will delight West Ham.

Amid all the England hype about Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho and co, Holt claims West Ham star Rice is the most important player of them all.

England v Iceland - UEFA Nations League
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Respected journalist hails Rice with bold claim that will devastate Leeds fans

“Amid all that understandable enthusiasm about the headline acts and the desire to fit as much of that talent into the team as possible, it is becoming more and more apparent that the role of Declan Rice in this exciting, young England side is the key to its chances of going two steps further than Gascoigne’s team of Euro 96, which fell to Germany in the semi-finals,” Holt wrote in The Daily Mail.

“Rice, who scored his first England goal against the Icelanders, may not enjoy quite as much acclaim as some of his more celebrated England team-mates but he should do. He’s such a mature talent that it is easy to forget he is still only 21. 

“He’s already a highly-accomplished defensive midfielder but the amount of potential he still has to unlock is frightening.

“He can play in central defence or ahead of the back four. He has the kind of positional sense and tactical smarts you can’t teach. 

 

“He’s brilliant at breaking up play and forcing turnovers, economic in his passing, good in the air, a fine tackler, calm and authoritative. He is not flashy but he still catches the eye. It may not be long until he is recognised as England’s best player.

“His role is critical, too, as Southgate tries to find the balance between maximising England’s attacking threat and protecting its central defence…

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‘Rice will become the rock on which success is built’

“There is so much talk about the talent that England possess and every reason to believe that, playing at the heart of the team, Rice will become the rock on which success is built.”

High praise indeed.

But it is what West Ham fans have known all along.

It is just now Rice’s England performances mean the wider footballing world is seeing it too.

As for Leeds star Phillips, there is no reason why he cannot become Rice’s long-term back-up.

But Southgate prefers Jordan Henderson for that role right now.

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