Are Manchester City And Pep Guardiola Signing Declan Rice To Spite Arsenal?

A tactical transfer or is Rice exactly what City need?
09:00, 26 Jun 2023

Manchester City have entered the race to sign West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice. Despite some reported interest from Manchester United, Arsenal have long been credited as the front-runners to capture the England international. But now Pep Guardiola has once again waved the magic wand that has conjured signings from out of his protege Mikel Arteta’s hands. 

It’s not even the first time such gazumping has taken place in this summer transfer window. Arsenal were confident of striking a deal with Chelsea over Mateo Kovacic, before the Croatia international instead landed at the Etihad. With the treble sitting in their heaving trophy cabinet, it is becoming ever harder for targets to say no to the Cityzens.


But do City even need Declan Rice? Perhaps this transfer is motivated less by strengthening Guardiola’s hand and more about weakening that of his rivals? After all, Arsenal came closer than anyone to usurping City as they sought their third consecutive league title. Last season’s second-placed team would benefit massively from bolstering their midfield and Rice is arguably the best on the market in that role. Could City have acted to cut off the Gunners’ legs rather than to improve their squad?

After all, City boast arguably the best defensive midfielder in the league in Rodri. It is hard to picture Rice displacing him, despite his obvious credentials. After a season in which the Spaniard excelled, you’d imagine the furthest thing from Guardiola’s mind is a replacement. Given the fact Rodri is just 27, you imagine the 24-year-old Rice isn’t being signed as a successor either.

So why Rice? Well, the prevailing view is that it is indeed a tactic. That by taking him off the market they harm what Arsenal and, to a lesser extent, Manchester United are trying to do. If he’s in their ranks, he isn’t transforming the Arsenal midfield or giving Casemiro a sturdy partner as Christian Eriksen approaches his 32nd birthday. 

But surely this cannot be the only factor at play. After all, Rice isn’t going to finally leave West Ham in a long-touted move to effectively be a Kalvin Phillips upgrade. The former Leeds United man's travails at the Etihad, even before the injury that sapped his season, should serve as a warning to Rice. His erstwhile England midfield partner has struggled to make an impact in Manchester, even if he can now call himself a treble winner.


But does Guardiola really buy players out of spite and without a plan? Unlikely. A manager as tactically fluid as the former Barcelona man won’t have signed off on the potential signing of Rice without knowing where he would fit into the squad. So where could Rice slot into this incredibly successful side?

We have already dismissed the idea of Rodri’s removal. But Rice could possibly slot in alongside him in a double-pivot. Such a move could see John Stones replaced as a moonlighting midfielder, returning him to his customary defensive duties. The experiment worked due to Stones’ ball-playing abilities, but Rice can do all that and more.

However, Rice also has experience as a centre back. Guardiola loves redefining his players and Rice playing a sort of hybrid role bringing the ball out from the back could suit him. The Hammers icon could operate as almost an incredibly deep midfielder, doing similar work to what he does now but from within the defensive line.

There is also the possibility that the departing Ilkay Gundogan’s role leaves with him. The German is expected to join Barcelona imminently. He is a far more adventurous player than Rice, but perhaps that isn’t what Guardiola wants at this stage. Sometimes the best replacements are not like-for-like. Michael Carrick was the successor few predicted when Roy Keane departed Old Trafford for Celtic. But his silk succeeded where Keane’s steel had before. Could a more cautious midfield allow Guardiola other avenues of attack, keeping studious opponents on their toes?

Rice improves this City squad. He may even improve their starting eleven. Really, the Arsenal usurping is just an added bonus in the acquisition of a genuine talent. It may take the England man a season to get his feet under the table. Rodri needed that assimilation and Jack Grealish has become a superstar off the back of a similar period of adjustment. But if Guardiola wants Rice there will be a good reason why. It is that, rather than any transfer market machinations, that should make Arsenal, United and City’s other rivals fearful.

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