The England international continues to flourish under David Moyes as the Hammers swept aside Aston Villa in an impressive 4-1 win on the road
The joy on the face of 21-year-old right-back Ben Johnson after he opened the scoring in West Ham United’s win over Aston Villa on Saturday evening will no doubt have been mirrored by the coaches at the club’s academy who have overseen the Londoner’s journey to the first-team since all the way back in 2007.
Johnson gave the Hammers the lead at Villa Park with an extremely well-taken left-footed shot into the far corner beyond the despairing Emiliano Martinez before dancing with his team-mates while sporting the kind of juvenile, beaming grin that perfectly captured the glee of the moment.
The Londoner is the latest in a long line of local lads that West Ham have developed into excellent first-team footballers over the decades, with his very impressive performance and selection over Vladimir Coufal, only recently returning from injury, at full-back tonight strongly suggesting he has the ability to enjoy a successful career with his boyhood club.
The even more impressive player development story in the Hammers’ latest victory though, was that of captain Declan Rice, who with every passing week shows himself to be a staggeringly talented footballer adding further strings to his bow.
The Johnson goal was created by the 22-year-old England midfielder as he strode out of midfield, picked his head up and lifted a lovely clipped pass into space on the edge of the Villa penalty area, before Johnson did the rest and gave David Moyes’ men an early advantage they fully merited.
Having been pegged back by an Ollie Watkins equaliser, it was Rice who restored the away side’s lead with a swashbuckling shot into the far corner through a crowd of players that Martinez claimed to have been unsighted for.
Just before the interval Villa broke down the left-hand side and as Matt Targett delivered a pinpoint cross towards the penalty spot, the covering Rice was on hand to flick a subtle headed clearance just beyond the reach of the approaching Watkins, ensuring the his side went into the break ahead.
It was an impeccable 45 minutes of football from a player who possesses the kind of all-around ability both between and inside both penalty areas that very few central midfielders in world football can claim to match right now.
Rice played his first few fixtures in the West Ham first team as a centre-half, explaining his defensive qualities, but the goals and creativity he has added to his game this season are a sure-fire sign of a player maturing in both his vision and bravery but also developing the intelligence of movement to be a handful around the opposition box.
This is an immensely likeable and thoroughly fun West Ham team, hvilken, through its superb form in the Premier League, domination of its Europa League and strong progress in the Carabao Cup, is giving its delirious supporters the most enjoyable season they have witnessed in decades.
The interesting thing about that is West Ham are, in so many ways, a throwback of a side. Nobody saw this David Moyes remontada coming, for nybegynnere, og 4-2-3-1 shape they line up in every week was more on trend in 2009 than it is in 2021. Grafters like Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek are thriving, and the height and physical of strength of the side makes them extremely difficult to beat.
And all of that suits Rice’s old-fashioned, all-action style perfectly.
Rice is not a midfielder who is happy to hold onto the ball for long, to probe for a pass into the final, or to go backwards in order to start again. I stedet, he is providing a relentless flurry of tackles, skudd, passerer, headers, interceptions and all manner of other contributions that have a direct and immediate influence on the game in the here and now.
That style makes him not only an excellent footballer, but a modern superhero to a group of supporters who love nothing more than to see an academy boy playing well and leading a successful team as it marches forwards.
Rice is surrounded by constant transfer speculation about moves to the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, but there is no need whatsoever for the player to considering anything of the sort right now when he is developing at this rate match-after-match, captaining a side that could well win a European trophy this season and/or qualify for the Champions League next time around, and having so much fun in the process.