In Focus: Palace have Eze solution to fill Gallagher void

Matthew Hill
LiveScore
Eberechi Eze will be eyeing a big season in Crystal Palace's midfield after a tough 2021-22
Eberechi Eze will be eyeing a big season in Crystal Palace's midfield after a tough 2021-22

Conor Gallagher’s return to Chelsea has left a creative void in Crystal Palace’s midfield — one that Eberechi Eze looks primed to fill.

The ex-QPR star missed a huge chunk of the 2021-22 campaign with an Achilles tendon issue and had to patiently bide his time before returning to Patrick Vieira’s starting XI in the season’s final weeks.

Ahead of the Eagles kicking off the new Premier League season at home to Arsenal tonight, we put their No10 under the microscope.

Injury woe

Eze’s debut Premier League campaign in 2020-21 was an extremely impressive one, marred by a cruel end.

Under the tutelage of ex-England boss Roy Hodgson, the Greenwich-born creator made light of the step up to top-flight football with a string of impressive displays on the left of Palace’s midfield.

Four goals and six assists in 34 appearances had even seen the youngster force his way into Gareth Southgate’s provisional squad for that summer’s delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Yet hours after learning of his imminent international call-up, disaster struck.

At the back end of a light training session, with nobody near him, Eze turned sharply and was greeted by a loud pop — the rupturing of his Achilles.

Former team-mate Andros Townsend recited the incident, saying: "He fell to the floor. He thought somebody kicked him, we all thought somebody kicked him because it sounded like that.

"As he’s turned around and realised nobody was around him, then the shock started to set in as you know what it is."

Disrupted campaign

Eberechi Eze had to wait a long time to get back into Crystal Palace's XI after injury
Eberechi Eze had to wait a long time to get back into Crystal Palace's XI after injury

It took Eze six months to return from the horror injury, meaning he did not kick a ball again until November 2021. 

Even when he did return to the fold, two brief cameos were all Vieira afforded the youngster with the new Eagles boss wary of rushing him back too quickly.

That concern — coupled with the fine form of Blues loanee Gallagher, Jeffrey Schlupp and Cheikhou Kouyate — ended up leaving the 24-year-old on the peripheries until April, when he featured in seven of the final eight matches.

Eze said of that frustrating period: "To not play was difficult. We [he and Vieira] had conversations, we spoke with some agreement and some disagreement.

"We had our discussions about me thinking I’m ready and us disagreeing, but I’m very aware that it was my best interests being put first. 

"I’m grateful to have people like that where, even if it's a hard decision to make, they’re willing to do it."

Mercurial talent

Prior to his injury, Eberechi Eze had looked right at home in the Premier League
Prior to his injury, Eberechi Eze had looked right at home in the Premier League

Since Vieira took over at Selhurst Park, the Eagles have played a significantly more attractive style of football — something which will suit Eze down to the ground.

Anyone who has watched him play will reference his elite ball-carrying ability, perfectly showcased by him ranking fourth out of all Premier League midfielders for completed take-ons in 2020-21.

That campaign, he also produced the goods in the final third, sitting inside the division’s top 10 in his position for assists and the top 20 for big chances created.

Legendary striker Les Ferdinand, who was director of football at QPR and eventually approved his move to Palace, found himself in awe of the youngster’s natural talent.

Speaking in 2020, Ferdinand said: "If you look at his footballing ability, I could put him down as one of the best I have ever seen in terms of what I have been fortunate to play with in my career.

"When I see some of the things he does on a football and how comfortable he is on a football, I put him up there as one of the best I have seen."

Star attraction

Eberechi Eze will hope to get a chance to shine for England at senior level soon
Eberechi Eze will hope to get a chance to shine for England at senior level soon

This season looks set to be a pivotal one for Eze for several reasons.

Primarily, he has the chance to put his injury nightmare behind him and re-establish himself as a regular for an Eagles outfit that caused plenty of upsets in 2021-22.

However, the departure of Gallagher back to Chelsea looks to have freed up a potential central attacking midfield berth — a prospect Eze finds attractive.

Asked about the position last week, he said: "Wherever I am on the pitch, I just want to play so I think it could be that role and if it is I’m happy to do it.

"For me, it’s to get balls into the pockets, to get forward facing and create. That’s my job in the team, to create and score goals."

Should he get back to his pre-injury best, it seems inevitable that bigger clubs will come calling along with a hard-earned first international call-up.

In an England side often labelled by critics as overly cautious, an in-form Eze could be just the man to inject some unpredictability into the mix.

Tags

Crystal PalaceEberechi EzePremier League
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