In today’s guest post, Marius Fischer looks at QPR’s Eberechi Eze to see how he might fit in at Leeds United…
As the end of August approaches and the best teams in Europe are still battling it out for the Champions League, Leeds fans are already looking forward to their first appearance in the Premier League since 2004.
Expectations around Elland Road are high and, with that, comes the hope for prestigious new signings. While the last few weeks have been dominated by rumours rather than facts, the Peacocks are now looking to strengthen their squad to make themselves Premier League-ready.
One player who has received increasing focus is Eberechi Eze. In his second full Championship season as a starter for Queens Park Rangers, the 22-year-old Nigerian midfielder drew attention to himself by scoring 14 goals and assisting another 8.
But how well would the youngster feature in Marcelo Bielsa’s team?
A Flexible Creative Midfielder
Eberechi Eze can occupy every position in midfield and started all over the pitch for Queens Park Rangers last season, as this graphic from Twenty3 shows:
However, he prefers to start from the left wing where he can dribble to the middle to create chances and shoot with his stronger right foot.
His heatmap from last season confirms that as most of his actions took place on the left side of the pitch:
It should never be the main reason to sign a player but their production will always play an important role in a player evaluation.
Eze had a good season in that department: 14 goals (including 4 penalties) and 8 assists helped him finish 12th in the top scoring charts, just 3 short of stand-out performer Said Benrahma.
As a finisher he always looks very calm and confident in front of the goal. He tries to keep his head and watch the keeper and likes to place the ball in the bottom corners:
His 4 out of 4 penalty rate is just a side note but underlines that he is very self-confident for his age and isn’t shy to take responsibilities.
As a creator, Eze has a talent for playing the killer pass. He has a good feel for space and time, and mostly weights his passes perfectly. 4 of his assists this season came from through balls: good value for any attacking midfielder in a rather average offensive side.
With the Ball
The number of highlight reels of Eze that exist on the internet already suggests that he is a flashy player.
The 22-year-old likes to dribble, perform skills and nutmeg opponents. In that area, he definitely calls to mind Adel Taarabt who tended to use the Championship as a circus stage back in his QPR days.
Eze combines this technique with more effectiveness, though. He attempted 6.52 dribbles per 90 minutes last season and was successful in 57%: a good rate for a high volume dribbler.
As much as he likes to be on the ball, he has learned when to pass at the right time, something he was still missing in his first full season two years ago. He now uses his dribbling to attract opponents and then find teammates in space.
In this play sequence, you get a good sense of this ability to move the ball into dangerous spaces:
Having picked up the ball on the left, Eze dribbles past one defender and continues his run to the centre…
…where he spots the run of his teammate and plays a perfect through ball assist.
Here’s another example of this ability to move central from Luton’s trip to QPR this season:
Again, picking up the ball on the left, Eze turns his opponent and dribbles towards the middle.
Keeping his head up, he spots the run by his teammate into free space behind the defence and plays an accurate through ball into the channel.
Here’s a final example from that same game:
Once again, Eze has worked his way into the centre, attracted three players, and then plays a well-weighted through ball into the channel.
Without the Ball
The majority of a player’s actions happen without the ball. For elite footballers, especially those in attacking midfield positions, it is important to find open spaces with intelligent movement.
For a player of his age, Eberechi Eze is already really advanced in this regard. His off-the-ball movement is very smart and he anticipates the movements of his opponents to find the best room for him to operate.
This map shows you the successful passes and total passes that Eze played this season. As you can see, he makes a high volume of passes in those dangerous zones where opponents are always trying to stay compact and put pressure on a player. These are the zones where Eze is good at finding space to receive the ball.
Here’s a good example of Eze doing just that:
With his teammate passing the ball back, Eze spots the open space behind the defender and starts his run to receive the ball in the box…
… when the ball comes in, a good first touch helps him to control the ball and score a goal.
In this sequence of play, QPR are counter-attacking:
Eze notices that the defender is only tracking the run of his teammate in the centre and, therefore, adjusts his own run to the left to create space between him and his opponent.
Still on the blind side of his defender, Eze receives the ball with no pressure, dribbles towards the goal…
… and scores a nice curler into the right bottom corner.
Here’s one final example of this off-the-ball awareness:
With QPR in possession at the edge of the box, Eze notes the run of his defender and gets out of his shadow with an opposite movement.
He can now receive the ball without pressure in a dangerous area right in front of the box.
Value for Leeds
Eberechi Eze has developed into a promising young attacking midfielder who, despite his flashy dribbling skills, has a lot of maturity in his finishing, passing and off-the-ball movement. Matched with the runners in Leeds’ team, his ability to play the final pass could make this a really good fit.
In the Premier League, Leeds won’t be as dominant as they were last season. They will lack the sort of possession they managed then too, so they will need players whose individual class can create them goals from nowhere: Eze really is this kind of player.
However, he needs to improve his defensive contribution. He does not have the best defensive work rate and is not the best tackler. If he wants to play a role in a Bielsa side, he needs to learn how to press in the right way and track the runs of his opponents. Otherwise, he will get exposed as a defensive liability.
Nevertheless, the young Nigerian is intelligent enough to adapt to that and, with Bielsa, he couldn’t wish for a better coach to help him to become a complete attacking midfielder.
All the data visualisations in this article except for the Goals and Assists Map come courtest of Twenty3. All data is from Wyscout.
You can follow Marius Fischer on Twitter @Gegenpressing91.
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