EFL Championship has recently been known as “a league of talents”. Many young prospects made their names during a few recent seasons and used it as a platform to head for bigger clubs. Besides foreign talents, homegrown youngsters are also getting attention through their impressive performances.
The likes of Ché Adams, Ryan Sessegnon or Daniel James had become key players for their respective sides and secured big moves this summer. Still, a few names such as Jarrod Bowen, Darragh Lenihan or Dael Fry remain at the club and are expected to have a breakthrough season in front of them.
Among the players who are still plying their trade for the clubs, Eberechi Eze stands out as one of the promising talents that should be playing at a higher level. His dynamic style of play and technical abilities brings him a first-team spot at Queens Park Rangers. To understand what are his strongest attributes, we must use statistics and footage to analyse his influence in QPR’s tactics. Also, this tactical analysis scout report will provide an analysis of whether Eze is ready for a higher level of football or not.
Starting his career among Millwall’s youth ranks, Eze moved to Queens Park Rangers’ U23 team in 2016. A year later, he had his first full season playing first-team football after being loaned to Wycombe Wanderers. He was immediately recalled back to his parent club during that same season and got his Championship debut.
His career lifted off since then, making a total of 67 appearances across all competitions in three seasons for QPR. He also had eight goals and registered six assists in the process. He is a versatile player who can play in most of the midfield roles, but his preferred position is a central attacking midfielder. Eze is capable of playing in a front three, occupying both the left- and right-winger spot and able to lead the line in the striker’s role. Furthermore, he made a few cameos as a left wing-back for England U20 when they participated in last summer’s Toulon Tournament.
Statistically speaking, he has been pretty good for the club last season. On average, he made 25.48 passes (with the accuracy rate of 83.9%), 1.23 long passes (33.3%) and 3.36 passes to final third (74%) per game. He also took on 13.85 attacking duels per game, winning 40.4% of them. As a player who tends to dribble, he usually goes on with the ball by himself and completed 56% out of 5.36 dribbling attempts per game. In the defensive perspective, he is an active player that usually support his teammates. The numbers also indicate this statement too, with 4.03 defensive duels (won 54.1% of them), 2.23 interceptions and 3.49 recoveries per game.
His playmaking role
Last season, Eze was used as an attacking midfielder right behind target man Nakhi Wells or Tomer Hemed in the 4-4-1-1 formation. In the role of both the team’s main playmaker and shadow striker, his responsibilities were to provide the goals while linking up with the midfielders and brought them into play.
This season under Mark Warburton though, the central attacking midfielder spot in his 4-2-3-1 formation is occupied by Ilias Chair and Matt Smith. Eze is now playing slightly to the left and he is also being moved to the opposite side on a few occasions, specifically in the game against Wigan. But for a player who prefers to play with both feet like him, it won’t be a big obstacle when he adapts to a new position.
Still, he remains as a playmaker but also takes on a more dynamic role which allows him to be flexible on- and off-the-ball. When the team built their attacks from the back, Eze tends to drop deep and offer a passing option. Playing just below him is Dominic Ball and Josh Scowen, two ball-winning midfielders. Although they are comfortable on the ball, their main role requires them to focus more on defence.
With Eze dropping deep, they can continue the build-up process using short passes among the defenders and then lay it off for the English youngster. It’s also worth noticing that QPR have two centre-backs who are more than capable to be involved frequently in the build-up process.
Last season, both Grant Hall and Yoann Barbet made an average of 34.46 and 48.68 passes respectively. The former spent the majority of the first half of the season for injury recovery and on the bench, but he still contributed much to the team’s effort. The latter also had his first half of the season playing as a left-back and only returned to the centre-back spot when Chris Mepham left Brentford.
Against a team who tend to defend deep inside their half and create overloads across the pitch, Eze’s positioning is crucial. When he picks up the ball from the defenders, he can change the team’s attacking direction by making a long pass towards the winger on the opposite side.
It keeps the attack away from being disrupted while also stretching the opposition’s defensive structure. As a result, more space will be created between the lines which allow Eze’s teammates to move in and create short combinations to bypass the pressure. In those situations, he will stick to the wide-area to attract the attention of the defenders. Meanwhile, the striker would move close to him and try to find a space that he could dribble in. Along with the movement of the attacking midfielder, Eze acts as an intermediate who receives the ball and immediately lays it off to the other.
Furthermore, Eze also creates chances for his teammates when he is inside the wide area. He will use his movement to attract the opposition’s defenders and create spaces behind their back. Besides utilising quick and short combinations with the teammates, crosses are also another option for Eze to create chances for the players that surround him.
But that is not his favourite option when he has possession, which shows in the average number of crosses that he made last season (0.59 crosses per game, completed 32% of them). In a wider role under Warburton, that number has seen a significant rise. Fully playing in four out of five games this season, he has registered an average of 1.17 crosses per game and completed half of it.
In counter-attacks, he usually finds himself in a deeper position. But in case he notices a player who is making a run into the final third, Eze will use a long ball to find him. There, he has the option of continuing his movement and dribble on his own or holding the ball up to bring his teammates into play.
A direct style of passing when creating counter-attacks, allowing QPR to hit the opposite team when most of their players aren’t retreating- we could see more of the same from him as the season progresses.
A quick dribbler with great positional awareness
Taking part in a more dynamic role allows Eze to work and run more with or without the ball. When not in possession, he is a big threat using his positioning and spatial awareness which allows him to move into free space that is created. During the build-up process, the defenders can distribute the ball wide for both wing-backs. It usually attracts the attention of the opposition defender and leads to them moving out of position. This is the trigger for Eze to make a progressive run into the space that is created and start an attack.
In the situation below against Swansea this season, Connor Roberts attempted to leave his position to mark Ryan Manning. He accidentally left a big gap behind his back for Eze to cut inside and receive a through ball from the QPR’s left-back. While Fulton continuously signalled that Eze is left free, it was not until he reached the final third that Mike van der Hoorn moved out to follow him. This created a gap in between Swansea’s two centre-backs and Smith could move in to cap off the attack.
Even under pressure, Eze shows his quick vision and attempts to look out for space where he can dribble the ball in. The shot below was from the game against Leeds last season. He was tightly marked by three players and they were on the brink of tackle the ball away from him. But by immediately spotting the space in between Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford, he managed to get the ball out of the zone and then laid the ball off to another teammate.
A similar situation also happened this season when QPR travelled to Bristol City and it was the scenario before Eze’s pass for Hugill. Again, Eze was being tightly followed by two players and another two even marked space surround him. When Ádam Nagy moved towards him, the Hungarian midfielder left a gap behind his back. He spotted that and ran towards him, before using a quick technical move to bypass him and headed towards the unoccupied space.
Besides being quick in planning the pathway that he could dribble in and noticed unoccupied spaces, he is confident in his dribbling ability. As shown in the two situations above, he was under the pressure of at least two players and couldn’t lay the ball off to any of his teammates that were surrounding him.
But using his pace and technical abilities, he was able to escape and continued to link up the play. He also occasionally adds a bit of flair and eccentricity into his moves which allows him to dribble past his marker. This helps the team in recycling possession while encourages his teammates to make progressive runs in front of him and pick up the next pass.
Noticeably when Eze is being closed down by one of the opposition’s players, he tends to make a step quicker and uses his body to shield the ball. With his physicality, the player would find it hard to tackle the ball away from him. Meanwhile, any of Eze’s teammates who surround him will come short and offer to pick the ball up.
Participating in the team’s defence
Not only on the ball does he use this strategy to keep the team’s possession, but he also adapts it when he attempts to win the ball back. He will use his pace to beat his man and reach for the ball while asking for support from his teammates. His physicality gains him an advantage against the opposition’s player and allows him to hold the ball for a teammate to pick it up.
Besides from being involved in the team’s press high up the pitch, Eze also joins the defensive structure by tracking one of the wing-backs until he reaches the box. He would link up with his teammates to press the ball carrier as well as his passing options inside their half. With his pace, he usually manages to close the ball carrier down and win the ball from his feet for a counter-attack.
When the press is bypassed, he follows one of the wing-backs who is attempting to overlap into QPR’s half to retreat into the box. Usually, Eze keeps a sufficient distance away from him but still keeps him in sight. Meanwhile, he is constantly turning his focus towards the situation and predicts what will happen next and how he could involve himself in it.
With the right timing and a head start compared to the wing-back, he could intercept the pass being made and change the team’s status from defence to attack. A very conservative approach in defence, yet very intelligent. Rather than getting caught off inside the middle third, he uses one of the player’s movement to help him join the defensive shape. It also helps him in marking that player along the way and win the ball back in an easy way.
But QPR’s defensive structure focuses more on defending a certain area which also requires him to stay compact on several occasions. While he is still able to adapt his marking strategy to a player near him, it also leaves the wide-area unoccupied. This creates the chance for the wing-back to overlap high up the pitch and receive a direct pass from the centre-backs, which could result in a dangerous chance.
Staying on the edge of the defensive structure also requires Eze to become a focal point when the structure shifts laterally across the pitch. Usually, he has to move close to the nearest passing option of the ball carrier and marks him up. It would help him eliminate a possible receiver and fill up the wide area, but it creates a gap between him and the central midfielder in case the shape is still moving across. This results in a high possibility that the winger on that side will cut inside into that space and turn himself into an option. With either Manning or Barnet unable to take the risk of dropping out of their position and fill in that gap, it could leave the side vulnerable if the ball is successfully being moved towards the box.
It’s fair to say that Eberechi Eze is one of the most interesting prospects that we need to keep an eye on this season and maybe in the near future. At the age of 21, he has been a key and consistent performer for Queens Park Rangers in their two recent seasons.
In the role of a playmaker, his vision and passing ability help the team build their attacks more efficiently. Shifting towards a more dynamic role, he capitalises his strengths of positioning, spatial awareness and dribbling to create chances for himself and his teammates. He is also starting to pay more attention to be involved in the team’s defence, using his marking ability to track the run of the opposition’s player and put pressure on the build-up.
We are still in the early days of the season and Eze is still far from what he can become. Consistent first-team football with Queens Park Rangers will help him develop his ability and skills which will benefit both the team and himself. Amid the rumours that big names are sniffing around him, he is aiming to contribute to the team’s play and helps them improve their record compared to last season.
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