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Crystal Palace are a mind-boggling enigma.
The Eagles soar to unexpected dominance victories against quality teams or fail to land a blow on some of the weaker opponents in the division. For every impressive 3-1 away win at Old Trafford, there’s a frustrating 1-0 loss to Burnley in good measure.
That may have something to do with the variety of strikers they hang their scorer hat on. Or should we say, the lack of variety. What this Palace team (and many others) misses is a regular scorer, someone who is going to score 15 goals per season.
Instead, they rely on Wilfried Zaha’s incredibly talented but irritatingly inconsistent hipster dude. Zaha has shown throughout his years in the Premier League that he can win matches without help, and when he’s fit there are very few better attacking stars in the top flight.
However, when he doesn’t shoot, the whole team suffers. Even in the moments when he’s clearly not finding the spaces and creating the opportunities he normally enjoys, Palace forces the ball down his throat and waits for him to do something.
It’s very ‘Will Smith playing basketball in Fresh Prince of Bel Air‘kind of vibe.
Fortunately, another player has burst onto the scene. Anyone who saw Ebere Eze trash the Queens Park Rangers Championship last year knew how easily he would adapt to the demands of the Premier League.
For those who were not fortunate enough to have followed his progress, surely a layer of doubt remained about his transition to the big leagues. It so happens that the Premier League is the one forced to adapt to Eze’s style.
The 22-year-old plays like he’s controlling Ronaldinho on FIFA Street in 2005. He scoops the ball, takes a split second to himself, measures his score, and then cuts it in ruthless but lighthearted style. Your sense of time and understanding of when to stop, when to move, and when to hit the ball from under your opponent’s nose is impossible to teach.
Eze plays at his own speed, which means others must submit to his will and let him strut.
He carries the ball forward like he’s taunting his opponent, tempting him to pull out a boot and overcommit, even if deep down they know they’ll never make it to the inning on time. This ability to play with the emotions and instincts of defenders makes him a great danger when sliding forward, and causes his opponents to take decisive, though generally illegal, action to stop him.
And, of course, its key attribute? Eze takes Wilf’s heat off. The Ivorian now has that extra split second on the ball, as the defenders nervously glance over their shoulders for the fluid movement of Zaha’s new playmate.
Unsurprisingly, the duo have developed a wonderful understanding, spinning around each other and circling opponents. There is genuine courage and artistic expression to their game, and it shows in the areas where they are willing to take risks.
West Bromwich Albion loan officer Conor Gallagher was sent back to Stamford Bridge by Eze on Sunday, twisting and turning so many times that the midfielder lost his balance and tripped five yards in the wrong direction. All of that, within the middle of the Crystal Palace.
I guess it’s not a risk if you don’t fear the consequences.
And that’s the joy of Eze. Play with the freedom we all experience on the playground, but with the skill of someone destined for greatness. Statistics show he only managed one assist in the Baggies’ 5-1 hammering, but performances like this show why facts and figures only tell a fraction of the story.
Eze was at his devastating best against West Brom on Sunday afternoon. Eagles vs. Baggies may not be appetizing to watch while enjoying your Sunday barbecue, but the free spirit is becoming so influential that it has even managed to make a Roy Hodgson team a must-see.
Eze provided Zaha with the fourth goal, collecting the ball midway into the West Brom half, slaloming between a series of challenges and disappearing into the penalty area with such ease. It was frightening.
But these are the standards that we know you can meet, and regular viewers will be desperate to see you meet them on a more regular basis. Because when Eze is in shape, there are few things better in football than watching the youngster put his foot on the ball, take a second and prepare to express himself.