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Eberechi Eze

Crystal Palace, 2020–

Eberechi Eze attracted attention from across the Premier League with his performances for Queens Park Rangers in the 2019/20 season. Having been one of only nine outfielders – at any club – to start every single Championship game, he showed he had cracked that level and was ready to make the step up to the Premier League.

It was Crystal Palace that won the race to sign the 22-year-old, paying around £19.5m for a player with the vast majority of his career ahead of him and a great deal of potential. He quickly became a fixture in the starting XI for his new team, but his manager, Roy Hodgson, is confident there is plenty more to come from him. “I think he is a player who will improve all the time,” Hodgson said. “Most importantly of all he is getting used to the intensity of the Premier League and all the other things that the Premier League requires from you.”

Tactical analysis
Eze broke through as a winger and, to begin with, largely played on the left for QPR, but the fact he was handed the number 10 shirt only a few months after making his first-team debut gave an indication as to where he believed his future lay. He impressed as a creative, dynamic number 10 for QPR, floating across the front line and into deeper positions, knitting together his team’s moves with clever movements and deft touches.

There has been less opportunity to play as a 10 for Palace, but given his history out wide, he has quickly been able to adapt to the 4-4-2 formation Hodgson favours. He is more comfortable on the left than the right, but he is right-footed and does not stick to the flank. He is at his best coming infield and looking to get on the ball in the left half-space, where he has more options to progress play than he would out wide.

Opponents are quick to close him down and often double up on him. When he receives to feet between the lines, a defender will quickly run to meet him instead of allowing him time to turn. However, he shows good strength and awareness in these situations, and has the ability to hold off defenders while looking for a pass (below). Having done so, he is best when playing a simple pass to find a teammate rather than overcomplicating things by trying to find a runner in behind.

He has brilliant vision and an awareness of his surroundings, which allows him – even without particularly outstanding passing ability – to pick out teammates many others would not be able to. He does this with clever flicks, making a run across a defender, encouraging that defender to move in the direction he is going, and then disguising a deft flick back in the opposite direction into the space he has created. This does, however, sometimes lead to him attempting a difficult pass when there is a simpler option on.

He is a threat on goal from distance and isn’t afraid to chance his luck from range when the opportunity presents itself. Although he shoots far less for Palace than he did for QPR, they still try to get him into positions to shoot, and place him on the edge of the penalty area at corners – when he isn’t the one taking the corner – with a view to turning any clearance back towards goal. He is very good at wrapping his right foot around the ball to find the far corner; many of his 14 goals in his final season at QPR in the Championship came from that kind of shot. He generally shoots after running on to the ball, rather than receiving a pass with his back to goal, but that kind of opportunity has presented itself less frequently in the Premier League than it did in the second tier.

Eze is also an extremely talented set-piece taker, able to put quality balls into the box for teammates to attack and able to shoot from direct free-kicks (below). He is also exceptionally composed at penalties, opting for the goalkeeper-dependent method used by the likes of Eden Hazard, where the taker waits for the goalkeeper to move before slotting the ball into the opposite corner. It is a sign of Eze’s confidence that he is able to use this technique at such a young age, though while he had plenty of success from the spot at QPR, he hasn’t yet been able to wrestle penalty-taking duties off Wilfried Zaha at Palace.

Role at Crystal Palace
Eze is given far less freedom at Palace than he had at QPR. He played on the left or as the number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 at QPR, with licence to roam the attacking third in search of space, but in Hodgson’s 4-4-2, Eze’s role is more rigid. He has more defensive responsibility at Palace – which is understandable given the step up in quality – and is asked to retain a more consistent position in their out-of-possession formation.

He has taken to his role on the left side of midfield well, taking on his share of defensive responsibility with maturity when plenty of young players might have followed a big-money move with an assumption that they can simply carry on as before. Eze does a good job of holding his position in the flat midfield four (below), and breaks at pace once Palace win possession in the hope of making the most of counter-attacking opportunities. Along with Zaha and Jordan Ayew, Palace have plenty of players who can carry the ball forwards at pace and create chances on the break.

When Palace have established possession, Eze has rather more freedom, but Hodgson’s team do not dominate the ball very often so chances to drift away from his slot are relatively rare. He has to make those chances count more than at his previous club, and that means being less wasteful with his passing when he does get on the ball, as he sometimes rushes and miscues his attempts to find a teammate in the final third.

A little too often at QPR, his enthusiasm to attack filtered into the defensive side of his game; he would jump forward to meet his opponent too quickly, leaving his team exposed behind him. In a well-drilled Crystal Palace team, there is no room for vacating his position in midfield and he has stopped doing so under Hodgson’s guidance following his move to the Premier League.

As he continues to develop, he will become more efficient with the ball and, in doing so, will become more valuable and more effective at the top level. Having made a seamless step up to the Premier League at just 22 years of age, he has time on his side to improve yet further.

Eberechi Eze

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