Manchester United have just seen how Declan Rice can revamp their midfield

 The West Ham midfielder dovetailed well with Kalvin Phillips for England and Man Utd will have been watching.


Something strange happens on social media when an elite football team announces its team news, usually about one hour before kick off.

As Jose Mourinho might term it, thousands of 'Einsteins' emerge from the woodwork to have their two-penneth on the relevant selections and where the manager in case may have gone wrong.

Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are more than familiar with it. And before England games it is especially prevalent, with the specific phrase 'two DMs' trending on Twitter on Sunday lunchtime as the Three Lions prepared for their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia.

On the face of it, there were a number of issues with which to take issue as Gareth Southgate's England line-up was announced.

Kieran Trippier's selection over Luke Shaw at left-back was certainly one, as was the fact Raheem Sterling started over the likes of Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho in the front three. The fact Sancho didn't even make the matchday squad was also a little strange.

But Sterling starred in a deserved 1-0 win for England, scoring the only goal, while Trippier vindicated his selection with a very solid performance. Southgate's side were fairly workmanlike but also composed and excellent in patches, en route to victory over a lacklustre Croatian outfit.

The star of the show, however, was also a man many believed shouldn't have started the game at Wembley — hence the Twitter complaints at 'two DMs' (a double defensive-midfield pivot in front of the back four) - Kalvin Phillips.

Before kick-off, to have predicted the level of performance Phillips exhibited would have made you either a Leeds United supporter, or a member of Phillips' family. Or maybe Southgate himself.

And he didn't even play as one of two defensive midfielders after all, with England lining up in a progressive 4-3-3, with Phillips and Mason Mount shuttling up and down and West Ham's Declan Rice sitting deeper.

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There were plenty who watched the performance of the Leeds midfielder and thought immediately that United should try to sign him. Maybe Solskjaer was taking note and will ignite some interest in the 25-year-old.

But what seems likelier is United will act on their existing interest in Rice and possibly assemble a bid for the Hammers' lynchpin this summer.

At 22 (and not even 23 until January), Rice is three years Phillips' junior but looked to be the senior member of England's midfield triumvirate against Croatia.

His mature positioning and break-up play allowed the Leeds man to take the limelight with a bustling and disruptive midfield display. He held the fort to allow England to work, effectively, with five forward-thinking players — when some had feared they would only have three or four. Phillips made up the numbers, while Sterling and Phil Foden shone out wide.

You can only imagine what Rice could do to transform United's own midfield options in such a position.

By sitting between the lines and releasing the likes of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, the London-born battler could really gold-plate the United midfield.

Solskjaer has taken his own flak in the past two years for fielding 'two DMs' in the shape of Fred and Scott McTominay.

He briefly tried one with Nemanja Matic covering for Pogba and Fernandes after lockdown in summer 2020, but that was quickly exposed.

The Norwegian then decided that neither Fred or McTominay, nor Matic, could do the job on their own and hence 4-2-3-1 became the United staple. It was heavily criticised on occasions when supporters and pundits believed United needed just a one-man pivot against the weaker sides.

Rice could help them revert to 4-3-3 — or an attacking 4-1-4-1 as it becomes in practice, which would suit Pogba down to the ground. With the Frenchman heading into the final year of his United contract, it's now or never for Solskjaer to get the best from him, or cut ties completely.

Signing Rice could help United replace Pogba in part, but first and foremost it could help harness the best of the brilliant France star.

Maybe then the team news complaints will go quiet around Old Trafford, just as they did at Wembley once England let their football do the talking against Croatia.

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