Manuel Lanzini’s finish at Crystal Palace was special but Declan Rice’s role in West Ham’s second goal demands further examination. His clever scanning helps to explain why he has become one of the Premier League’s most complete midfielders.
When the ball was played into the feet of Jarrod Bowen, Rice’s first glance was behind him. There was a second look ahead to check what space he had to run into. As Bowen passed to him, there followed a third look forwards before he had even received the ball.
Once Rice had possession and was running directly towards the Palace goal, his head was not down. Even then – especially then – he was scanning. There were three more glances at Lanzini, building a picture as the attack developed before finally playing the pass.
Geir Jordet has been analysing the importance of scanning since 1998, among the first to really do so. A professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, he did his thesis and PhD on the role of vision, perception and anticipation in elite-level performance.
“Scanning does not tell us everything,” Jordet told Sky Sports this summer, “but it gives us a little bit of a window into the vision awareness process that these players have. It is a glimpse of the extent to which these players are aware of their surroundings.”
Studies suggest that the average player scans around three or four times in the 10 seconds before receiving the ball. In that brief passage of play at Selhurst Park on New Year’s Day, Rice scanned around on six separate occasions in just eight seconds.
With Rice, it is not just the quantity of his scanning but the quality of it. “Do not just look but perceive what is happening,” says Jordet. “And ultimately use it to guide your actions.” Rice recognised where the space was and he picked out the right pass to make as well.