Declan Rice has labelled criticism of England team-mate Mason Mount as “very harsh” after the Chelsea midfielder faced a social media backlash.
Mount was singled out during the last international break as many pundits and supporters clamoured for Jack Grealish to be more involved for England.
Despite the criticism, the 21-year-old has impressed for England and scored the winning goal in the Nations League victory over Belgium in October.
Gareth Southgate’s side head for the return tie in Leuven on Sunday – live on Sky Sports Premier League – and with Rice likely to be included alongside his close friend Mount, the West Ham man offered a staunch defence of his colleague.
“We don’t speak about it but I think it’s very harsh,” Rice said when asked about the negative social media surrounding Mount.
“I witness it here, when I come to train here and I have trained with him since I was a kid.
“So I know what his mentality is like, I know how hard-working and how driven he is and it is no surprise you know that Gareth picks him, Frank (Lampard) picks him.
“I think if you give every Premier League manager the chance to pick him, they pick him as well because if you see day in, day out what he gives to the team as an individual, he’s a top talent – so I think that the criticism is very harsh.”
Southgate has insisted it has never been a straight shootout between Mount and Grealish for a place in his team and the pair started together in Thursday’s friendly win over the Republic of Ireland.
Rice, too, believes there is no reason why the duo should be seen as rivals and feels both bring plenty to the international arena.
“I think if you look at Jack and you look at Mason, obviously there’s always going to be comparisons but they pretty much play in two different parts of the pitch,” he added.
“Mason now at Chelsea is playing as an attacking number eight and Jack is playing off the left.
“I think you could see the other night that they can both play in the same team for sure and they’re both great players that I think we should be valuing.
I think you could see the other night that they can both play in the same team for sure and they’re both great players that I think we should be valuing.
“For the nation and for me as someone who gets to play with these players we’re lucky that we get to play with such talents.”
Rice, who has been captaining West Ham in recent weeks with club skipper Mark Noble dropping out of the side, was also full of praise for England midfield partner Jordan Henderson.
One of the most experienced members of Southgate’s current set-up, Henderson has captained Liverpool to Champions League and Premier League glory in the past two years and Rice is learning plenty from the 30-year-old.
“If you look at Jordan and what he’s done in the game for his whole career really but especially the last couple of years, nothing is so important for someone like me to be playing next to him, to learn to get better,” Rice said.
“You don’t realise until you’re playing next to him his leadership qualities and what he actually brings to the team – he’s non-stop and always on at you in a good way, in a positive way.”