Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice were as central to England’s success at Euro 2020 as any other two players. Indeed, they formed the midfield platform upon which Gareth Southgate built his team on, giving England control and security on their run to the tournament’s final. Some claimed Phillips and Rice gave them too much control and security but that wasn’t their problem.
Now, both players have been linked with transfers away from their current clubs. Phillips is reportedly on Manchester City’s radar, with the Leeds United midfielder seen as the perfect replacement for Fernandinho, while Rice is believed to be keen to force his way out of West Ham with Manchester United interested.
Phillips has also been linked with United and Rice has, more than once, been mentioned as a City target. But which club would be the best fit for each player? Phillips and Rice have a lot in common in terms of the way they see and play the game, but there are also differences between the two.
City have seemingly prioritised the signing of Phillips over Rice for his superior tackling ability and strength in ground duels. In this sense, the Leeds man is closer to the profile of Fernandinho than anyone else currently plying their trade in the Premier League with the Brazilian almost certain to be replaced at the Etihad Stadium next summer.
What’s more, Leeds United’s general approach is closer to the way Manchester City play than West Ham. Phillips is accustomed to being left essentially on his own to hold it all together in the centre of the pitch. This is what Fernandinho has to do from time to time for the Premier League champions.
When it comes to passing accuracy, though, Rice is the superior operator with his completion rate higher than that of Phillips. The latter played more long passes than the former last season, but it was Rice who made a higher proportion of his passes in the opposition half. He is capable of pushing that little bit higher up the pitch.
Generally speaking, Phillips is a more cautious passer of the ball. The 25-year-old is more likely to look for a pass sideways than Rice, although Phillips still has the ability to carry the ball forward at his feet – see his assist for Raheem Sterling in England’s opening Euro 2020 fixture against Croatia this summer.
It could be argued that Phillips would be a better fit for Manchester United than Rice, who seems more likely of the two to make the move to Old Trafford. He would give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team the protection they need at the base of the midfield to support the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford further forward.
Rice, however, would certainly give United better structure in the centre of the pitch. As things stand, Solskjaer simply doesn’t have the personnel to anchor his team in midfield with Fred, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay all flawed in one way or another. The signing of Rice would undoubtedly improve the squad at Old Trafford.
Successful teams almost aways boast a player who holds it all together in the middle. Liverpool have Fabinho as the anchor of their central unit while Chelsea have the irrepressible N’Golo Kante. Barcelona have had Sergio Busquets for the last decade or so with Casemiro a midfield giant for Real Madrid.
City have had Fernandinho as their midfield enforcer for the last eight years, but the 36-year-old is fading as a physical force. Both Manchester clubs need someone in the mould of Phillips and Rice, but they must sort out amongst themselves which player would be best for their specific needs.
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