The Chilean also hit back at the 20-year-old’s critics for his performances for England over the international break.
Pellegrini heaped praise on Rice, and named Carlos Sanchez as the player who would replace him should he pick up an injury this season.
“He is just 20 years old and I think at his age, being a holding midfield player for England is an important merit for him and demonstrates the way he works and plays in every game,” he told the Sun.
“But in the way he is improving, I think at the moment he’s the number one in that position.”
“If he has any muscle problem then, of course, we will rest him – we have Carlos Sanchez in that position.”
The £50,000-a-week Colombian international [Spotrac] was absent for the majority of last season after having knee surgery which forced him to miss 215 days which added up to a total 34 Premier League games.
The 20-year-old definitely didn’t deserve the majority of the criticisms he received during the international break, as he excelled against Bulgaria, completing the second-highest amount of passes in the entire team [WhoScored]. The way Rice has adapted to international football incredibly well after only a couple of seasons in the West Ham first-team only highlights how impressive he has been for the Hammers in the Premier League. With the young midfielder standing out every single week, it is no surprise that Pellegrini labelled him as one of the first names on the teamsheet. Defensively, Rice has been the standout performer for the Hammers, with the youngster averaging 3.5 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per game according to WhoScored – the most interceptions in the entire squad. Pellegrini speaking out on the midfielder will give Rice a big confidence boost going back into the Premier League, starting on Monday night against Aston Villa, as the Hammers look to make it four wins in a row in all competitions.