13 months ago, Eberechi Eze fell to the ground in training, the pop of his Achilles break shocking his teammates into silence. Some were moved to tears. That indicated how serious it was.
A long and difficult journey back to life in the Crystal Palace first team followed. There was a comeback ahead of schedule, but only in the sense that he was in the squad, on the pitch and playing. He wasn’t the same player who lit up Selhurst Park under Roy Hodgson.
If there had been any doubts as to whether he could ever return to even near this level, then the less patient might have felt justified in their worries as he struggled for minutes, unable to work their way to the side regularly until the end of last season.
But that was always going to take time, and against Aston Villa that talent was once again apparent. It was by far Eze’s most accomplished performance since returning from injury.
Threatening with his drives through midfield, linking up well with Wilfried Zaha and showing poise and poise to get out of tight spaces, he was the first Eze.
“It’s his way of moving. The defender would also move, find himself off balance and then Ebs would be out,” said former Queens Park Rangers team-mate Nedum Onuoha. Athleticism in 2020.
“It’s a skill that few people have. Others have the jumps, the skills, but it’s flexible enough to move however the moment presents itself.
This flexibility to move away from his man was demonstrated throughout the 3-1 win over Villa and at Anfield in the draw with Liverpool.
Here’s how he used that superior balance to deftly get Palace out of trouble and threaten at the counter.
In the 36th minute, the 24-year-old escaped just outside his own box on the counterattack and advanced past four players.
He dodges a challenge and carries the ball into space with four opponents showing him attention…
He carries the ball forward, always surrounded…
…but that tight control and balance means he’s able to leapfrog another challenge…
…before moving the ball to the left in an attempt to avoid another tackle. This time, however, he is knocked down at the halfway line by Boubacar Kamara, who is cautioned.
The ball then heads for Odsonne Edouard, who is himself fouled and Palace have a free-kick deep into the opposition half.
Where it was an example of maneuvering out of tight space and then moving forward and countering, it shows off its balance and ability to change momentum to beat a defender with an hour into the game.
He moves the ball to his right foot, away from the defender and into space…
… and although he is challenged, he manages to let go of the ball. On this occasion, the attack fails.
In the 77th minute, Eze skillfully controls a looping ball under pressure from two players…
He walks away from Ollie Watkins with shrewd skill…
…before showing a clever change of direction, deceptively shifting his bodyweight to the left and producing a nutmeg. In the process, he causes his opponent to become unbalanced and draws a foul. The pressure is released.
Facing Liverpool, Eze is closely watched by Trent Alexander-Arnold on the left wing…
…but he sells Alexander-Arnold a dummy with his feint on and walks away from tight space marking…
Now freed from his opponent’s shackles, he has time to consider his options before playing Zaha down the left.
The attack comes to nothing, but it’s another example of how Eze uses his flexibility so well to get out of a tight spot and either push forward or free a teammate.
Here, minutes before Palace scored the opening goal, Eze looked to counter.
Alexander-Arnold is behind him, and Fabinho in front…
Fabinho can’t cope with the smart move and fouls him, but the advantage is played and Eze is gone into space, with Palace on a dangerous counter.
At the start of the second half, Eze has the ball against Harvey Elliott…
The Liverpool midfielder’s weight shifted to his left foot, thinking a move to the left is more likely, but Eze again used his bodyweight shift to trick him and moves to the interior from the left instead.
Again, this allows her to drive in space ahead and away from her man.
“Ebs is getting better and better. When the team plays like that, it allows them to show their quality,” manager Patrick Vieira said after the win over Villa.
“He likes to have the ball at his feet. Today was his best performance since his return.
He’s not a direct replacement for Conor Gallagher, but that doesn’t necessarily matter. If Palace still recruit someone to fill that void, it will give them the options Vieira wants.
Otherwise, they will have to play to Eze’s strengths, which naturally come in possession. At Liverpool he stood out in a slightly different role, cutting inside and taking advantage of his superior balance to open up breaches.
Against Villa, he wasn’t forced to press as often as he was in the season opener with Arsenal, although the role he was used in was still the No.8.
It wasn’t like a pressing No.8, because of the way Palace set up and how effectively his teammates helped him press.
“When you look at his talent, it’s important to be flexible and keep him in those two positions. He can play as a left winger coming inside or as a No.8,” Vieira said before. the game.
“He feels really comfortable with both positions. The performance of the team will allow him to show his quality and he will be a key player.
Eze marked the start of Palace’s squad revolution after signing with QPR for an initial fee of £16m ($18.9m) two years ago. So comfortable and accomplished in possession, he can be exceptional when driving over players. Apart from possession, there may be things to work on, but pressing never came naturally anyway.
It’s not his style and Vieira knows it. “Ebs has a different profile to Conor,” he said before the loss to Arsenal. “I don’t expect him to give us what Conor did last year. We will play in a different way, we will have a different strength.
The response after the win over Montpellier in the last pre-season game was that he could ‘bring us something as good as what Conor gave us’. On this show, it’s certainly possible.
Adding another midfielder more suited to an intense pressing game would free up the opportunity to test him in a traveling role that worked well against Villa.
The key to getting the most out of Eze is finding a role that gives him the freedom to play and relax his responsibilities off the ball.
If Vieira can do it, Eze will influence games a lot on a regular basis, Palace will create more chances and win more games.
(Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)