Eberechi Eze: a new role at Crystal Palace under Roy Hodgson?

2PJABRB Selhurst Park, Selhurst, London, UK. 1st Apr, 2023. Premier League Football, Crystal Palace versus Leicester City; Eberechi Eze of Crystal Palace goes past Harvey Barnes of Leicester City. Credit: Action Plus Sports/Alamy Live News

At last, Crystal Palace have managed to win a match for the first time in 2023. Their victory over Leicester City at the weekend ended their 12-game winless run that had cost Patrick Vieira his job and heralded a second stint at Selhurst Park for Roy Hodgson.

In the former England manager’s first game in charge, Palace looked reinvigorated as they recorded a total of 31 shot attempts – the joint-second most by any team this season.

This came immediately after a troubled stretch of fixtures in March which saw Palace face the likes of Manchester City, Brighton, and Arsenal. But the schedule looks a little more kinder on Hodgson with games to come against Leeds, Southampton and Everton.

The same relegation-threatened teams at the lower end of the table as Leicester, which could see Hodgson stick with the team which rallied to a late 2-1 win against the 2015-16 Premier League champions.

One notable change made by Hodgson was to restore Eberechi Eze back into the starting line-up, positioned alongside Cheick Doucouré and Jeffrey Schlupp in a midfield-three.

Eze’s place in the team had been reduced to featuring regularly as a substitute under Vieira after he had started 20 consecutive games this season, usually rotated between playing in the No.10 role and out wide. But with Hodgson at the helm, the former England Under-21 international played as a No.8 on the right side of the midfield with Michael Olise ahead of him on the wing, and played a full match for the first time since Nov. 6.

Together, Eze and Olise combined to produce six goalscoring chances between them with three each, as Palace targeted Harvey Barnes and Victor Kristiansen who hold PFF seasonal challenge grades of 49.7 and 67.8.

Using PFF grades and data metrics, here is a closer look at Eze’s performance against Leicester and what the midfield may signify for Hodgson.

Passing

PFF passing grade: 61.7 (position rank: 45th/65)

Despite his three key passes leading to a chance being created on each occasion, Eze was otherwise underwhelming as a passer as he generated a grade of 61.7. The quality of his passing was to a lower standard than both Doucouré (77.7) and Schlupp (68.6), with the latter given more of a licence to advance on the left flank as he recorded five chances created.

Still, Eze recorded the highest number of pass attempts by a non-defender for Palace with 43, more than Doucouré’s tally of 34 and Schlupp’s 22, but his pass grade remained lower than his seasonal grade of 71.2.

Shooting

PFF shooting grade: 76.2 (2nd/20)

Goals have been hard to come by for Palace this season with Vieira seemingly stretching to any means possible to avoid starting Odsonne Edouard or Jean-Phillippe Mateta. Of the two, Edouard was the preferred choice in starting 15 of 27 games this season under Vieira.

This placed an emphasis on goal contributions from wingers and midfielders, and has unsurprisingly led to Palace scoring the joint-second lowest number of goals in the Premier League (22).

Hodgson has reversed this and showed faith in Mateta to lead the line for Palace. But Eze showed a willingness to shoot at goal with five shot attempts against Leicester – the most of any Palace player. His 76.2 grade is a marked improvement on his seasonal grade of 70.4.

Challenge

PFF challenge grade: 62.9 (43rd/63)

To play in the midfield Eze will have to be robust in challenges and was mediocre in this facet when it came to his PFF grade of 62.9 for his performance versus Leicester.

Categorised in our wingers and attacking midfielders grouping, Eze’s seasonal challenge grade of 57.2 ranks 72nd out of 105 qualifying players. Transfer that grade into the midfielders category and Eze would rank 120th, behind both Doucouré (71.3, 26th) and Schlupp (69.5, 31st).

But at the basic level, without the context that grading provides, Eze’s challenge win percentage of 55% is the ninth-best out of a total of 37 midfielders who contested more than seven challenge events this past week. Eze’s teammate Cheick Doucouré boasted the top percentage within this sample of midfielders with 70%.

With an injury to Wilfried Zaha set to sideline the Palace talisman for a minimum of three games according to reports, Hodgson will have to consider how to play Schlupp and Eze within a midfield that has Doucouré clearly defined as its No.6.

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