Crystal Palace, who are among five teams to ‘double’ in Gameweek 37, are the focus of his latest piece.
Having little to play for in the league, Patrick Vieira is apparently keen to experiment with his attacking formations and blood academy products nearing the end of the season. The French head coach has previously mentioned the possibility of playing Wilfried Zaha (£6.9m) as a striker while also giving several underused players such as Eberechi Eze (£5.9m) significant playing time.
Considering the plethora of attacking options in the side, it probably makes sense for Vieira to try fitting in a lot of his best attackers in the same line-up in the spirit of possibly finding the best formula before next season.
This is a reason why I think Palace might be playing with more freedom from now until the end of the season.
We indeed saw fewer restrictions imposed on the two no. 8s, Conor Gallagher (£6.0m) and Eze, in Gameweek 36, allowing them to attack the box at a higher frequency:
This is unlike earlier in the campaign when one of the two central midfielders used to be more conservative going forward than the other, i.e. James McArthur (£4.3m) and Gallagher.
Central Wilfried Zaha
Unlike early in the season when midfield support from the likes of McArthur or Luka Milivojevic (£5.2m) was less than forthcoming, the recent addition of Eze could potentially increase Zaha’s threat on the left flank.
Particularly when playing as the left-sided central midfielder, Eze’s movement into the left channel can create some room in the centre for the Ivorian winger to attack.
Zaha’s ability to cut inside and curl one into the top corner is already well-known and Eze’s movement inside the box can further create the all-important extra inch of space for Zaha to shoot.
Moreover, Vieira had spoken openly about his desire to use Zaha in the central striking role before, eventually coming to fruition in the second half of the Southampton match. His manager’s faith was then immediately repaid with a last-gasp winner from outside the box.
That said, some question marks still remain regarding his compatibility with the new role as he undoubtedly would have fewer opportunities to run at defenders than on the left.
When asked whether he wanted to continue playing as a centre-forward after the Watford match, the Eagles winger replied:
“I don’t. He [Vieira] has got his ideas, and I have got mine, so we will see how it goes.”
Despite the conflicting ‘ideas’, Vieira’s openness to play the penalty-taking Zaha out of position should have at least given us enough indication on where he wants his best player to play – more centrally.
Eze’s ability to interchange positions with him on the left plus the fluidity of Jean-Philippe Mateta (£5.3m) or even Odsonne Edouard (£6.0m) will also probably help accelerate the procession.
Conor Gallagher’s Late Runs
Gallagher is another Palace asset that also possesses some attacking threat, even if the returns have dried up considerably of late.
When playing on the right, Michael Olise (£5.3m)/Jordan Ayew (£5.8m)’s tendency to be more withdrawn creates some room in the half-space area for Gallagher to exploit.
Having perfectly timed a late run into the penalty area, the young Englishman’s chance against Southampton in Gameweek 35 greatly highlighted his goalscoring potential. Often his shot count (just six in as many matches) doesn’t reflect the promising positions he takes up, a bit like Jamie Vardy (£10.3m) at Leicester in microcosm.
One thing to note, though, is that the presence of another attack-minded central midfielder in Eze could possibly dampen Gallagher’s attacking potential. Despite still making the same advancing runs, the Chelsea loanee evidently made less impact offensively against Watford, having failed to register a single penalty box touch.
In comparison, when Eze was assigned to the left-wing role against Southampton in Gameweek 35, Gallagher managed to register four penalty box touches. Having two forward-thinking no. 8s in the side, rather than one, does mean there is less onus on him to attack and another option for Palace’s chance creators to pick out.
Rotation is likely to be rife for some of the Eagles’ players during this period but Gallagher’s near-ever-present status this season probably makes him slightly safer from a benching than others.
Eye-catching Michael Olise
Olise’s recent absence from the Palace team owed much to a foot injury, which still rendered him half-fit even when he returned to the matchday squad.
But the young Frenchman caught the ‘eye’ with his most recent performance against Watford in Gameweek 36, lasting 90 minutes for the first time in months and playing a part in both Hassane Kamara’s (£4.5m) handball inside the box as well as his eventual sending-off.
His ability to unlock compact defences from such a deep position is a unique attribute in the Palace team that Ayew, his main positional rival, cannot come close to replicating.
Besides his Fantasy ‘assist’ for winning a penalty, Olise should have gotten another when he served up another big chance on the plate for Mateta from a similarly deep position.
His seven penalty box touches and two chances created against the Hornets summed up his overall involvement in the final third well, while he’s also on a share of set plays when he’s on the pitch.
Though the same can be said for the other Palace’s attackers, Olise is certainly a significant rotation risk – more so than Zaha and Gallagher, indeed. But based on his performance against Watford and improving fitness, he’ll surely get at least one league start in the upcoming Double Gameweek.
Among sub-£5.5m midfielders this season, he’s one of the most attacking out there:
Above: Sub-£5.5m midfielders sorted by minutes per xGI (minimum 10 apps)
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