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West Ham's Zabaleta vows to protect youngster Rice

PUBLISHED: 17:00 01 May 2018

Pablo Zabaleta, West Ham United

Pablo Zabaleta, West Ham United

PA Wire/PA Images

Hammers defenders stick behind young Hammer of the Year

Aaron Cresswell and Declan Rice v Raheem SterlingAaron Cresswell and Declan Rice v Raheem Sterling

West Ham veteran defender Pablo Zabaleta has vowed to help youngster Declan Rice as he goes through a crisis of confidence.

The young Hammer of the Year made a costly error at Arsenal last week and against Manchester City he played a part in the own goal and almost cost them another with a back pass.

But Zabaleta was keen to take some of the pressure off the 19-yeat-old Irishman.

“It was my own goal, not Declan’s,” he said magnanimously with the hint of a smile. “I was told it was Zabaleta for the record.”

Pablo Zabaleta, West Ham UnitedPablo Zabaleta, West Ham United

The 33-year-old Argentinian can certainly cope with the stigma of an own goal to his name, certainly more than the fragile Rice can at the moment.

And the wing-back is full of praise for the youngster.

“I have been very impressed with him this season. He came in as an 18-year-old and it has never been easy,” he said.

“But he has got the talent and that personality to become one of the greatest players for West Ham in the future.”

Strong words from a player who has seen it all and he knows that this is the time that the experienced players need to protect him.

“I am very pleased with him, but we need to support him,” said Zabaleta. “We all make mistakes, but he will learn from this and we need to help him through.

“I talk to him every day because I do really believe that he has been one of our best players this season.

“Now is a tough period. We are in a relegation battle and we need to do well and we cannot have more individual mistakes as they can cost points.

“He has been incredible apart from one or two mistakes.”

With the likes of Zabaleta on his side, chances are young Rice is going to come through this period stronger than ever.

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