Michael Olise Scout Report: How Crystal Palace’s big signing from Reading can help Vieira get off to a good start
With Crystal Palace allowing a number of last season’s squad to run out their contracts this summer, as well as with the departure of Roy Hodgson, they represent one of the more interesting teams to keep an eye on this summer. Ex Borussia Dortmund manager Lucien Favre was all but set to be named their manager (which would have been a fascinating pairing), but the Swiss coach pulled the plug at the 11th hour. Instead, Patrick Vieira was named as the successor to Hodgson, in a move that raised a few eyebrows, and only makes Palace even more of a team to watch this season and see what occurs.
Marc Guehi’s signing is a signal of intent, and with the signing of Michael Olise, they are clearly paving their way to build a club around young talent with both Eberechi Eze and Tyrick Mitchell already at Selhurst Park, alongside the figurehead of the club, Wilfried Zaha.
This tactical analysis and scout report provides an analysis on 19-year-old Michael Olise, who after a breakout season with Reading in the Championship, has taken the step up to Premier League football. His £8.37m transfer fee could well leave him as one of the frontrunners for the bargain of the season already.
Olise is an attacking midfielder who can play as a number 10, or either side of this position as a left or right-sided attacking midfielder. Olise can play as an inverted winger, however, this can limit his impact. At Reading, he had the freedom to stay wide if he so wished, but also to move inside and explore the half-spaces, central channel, or swap over to the left side. He will drop deep to receive the ball too, and given his dribbling ability on top of his prowess as a passer, he is talented at progressing the ball forwards. This variety in his positioning is clear to see if we look at the image below of Olise’s heat map from 2020/21.
His quality on the ball and positional sense even saw Reading use him as a pivot in some games, a role he is unlikely to play in at Palace, however, his flexibility provides a number of options. Eberechi Eze’s presence makes it unlikely Vieira will play both together as attacking midfielders and Olise is likely to go in as a straight swap for the departing Andros Townsend when Eze is selected, albeit with a different role assigned to him in this position.
Nevertheless, he will undoubtedly take up central positions, and he will look to find pockets of space where he can get into possession, facing the opposition goal, and use his vision, outstanding passing technique, and quick release to play in his attacking teammates with through passes.
Below we can see an example of a typical position he might take with this particular image coming from a clearance by the opposition leading to a header won by a Reading centre-back. As the ball is headed towards the Reading centre-forward, Olise remains nearby looking to receive the pass from the forward.
He is then able to receive the ball already facing the opposition goal. If he had received the ball to feet and then subsequently had to turn, he firstly might not have been able to due to the pressure, but it may have given time for the opposition defence to react to this and cut out any forward passing lines.
Instead, he receives and can play instantly off of minimal touches, playing through the gap between the centre-back and right-back to release his left-winger.
Olise is equally dangerous at creating passing lines for himself from wider areas. He is direct in possession and shows intelligence to draw opponents across. With the right-winger high and wide already, Olise drops wide on the ball and drives forward, looking to create a 2v1. The opposition left-back squeezes across the pitch to do this, and this subsequently opens up an inside passing line. Olise presents such a unique option because he is a threat from dribbling, from crossing, and from making through passes too. This set of skills makes him so difficult to defend against, regardless of his positioning on the pitch.
Scanning to play
One of the most striking things about Olise is not only his vision to play passes which carve open defences, but to do this so quickly. His scanning is of the highest level. It’s not unusual to see Olise checking his shoulders two or three times before receiving a pass. This isn’t anything particularly unique. Plenty of players across the game are prolific scanners, but with Olise it is noticeable how consistently frequent he is with this, constantly scanning before receiving the ball, or as he makes a run to provide an option. He initially scans to find the space, checking for pressure, and for any potential forward pass options, but he also scans as the ball is being played into him. Olise’s first touch is excellent and it’s rare to see him watching the ball as he receives possession. We can see him scanning in the image below as the pass is almost at his feet.
He is then able to take a touch before hitting a deft, pin-point pass in behind with the outside of his heavily favoured left foot.
This approach makes him particularly dangerous on attacking transition, where he is able to receive on the half-turn before quickly finding a through pass option.
With the opponent tracking back in this moment, Olise doesn’t just scan goal side, but he also assesses the amount of time he has to make the pass, scanning for defenders tracking back too. We can see this in the image below, where he has already scanned to see where the centre-back is and is now looking for his pass option, but also at the centre-midfielder looking to drop in and pick him up.
Again, he receives on the half-turn, and plays the through pass on his second touch, drawing the centre-back towards him and evading the defender tracking back, to play in his right-winger into a 1v1 situation.
This approach to playing his creative passes quickly has an obvious upside. He regularly catches defences off guard with his ability to break lines off of one or two touches, and with his scanning before receiving he rarely sets himself when on the ball, or gives away his passing intentions by having to look for his pass destination. Instead, he will disguise his pass option which gives his intended target that extra half a second to ready themselves for the through pass whilst the defender is left to react.
The image shown above shows him scanning and seeing the forward on the shoulder of the defender. As he receives the ball, in the following image, he lofts the ball in behind despite having his back to goal, successfully hitting the centre-forward in behind.
Olise has an impressive range of passing which he uses frequently to play in behind the opposition defence or switch the angle of attack. He has a specific area he likes to operate in before doing either, which is 50 to 30 yards out from goal in the right half-space, although he can still find this pass if positioned centrally. From this position, he has the option to either switch the play to the far side, over the top of the full-back, like in the following image, as well as loft the ball over the defence at an angle that leads slightly away from goal where it’s not easy for the keeper to rush out and claim. However, it turns defences round and is a dangerous ball for quick forwards to latch onto.
His quality on this pass is clear to see. Even with a deep-lying defence, he can successfully access the space behind them without overhitting the ball.
Olise doesn’t generally start in this area, instead dropping into it from a higher starting position, scanning as he does so of course. The image below shows a Cardiff clearance only going as far as the Reading midfield. Olise reacts to this clearance by instantly dropping off and checking his shoulder for space and a passing option.
He scans once more before receiving the pass, and opens his body up, giving him the option to let the ball run across his body so he can play first time if an option immediately opens up.
Instead, he takes a touch and recognises the cue given to him by the highlighted forward, who points towards where he wants to receive the ball as he begins his run. Olise uses his position to play the ball over the top at a slight angle away from goal, with his quick release on this pass allowing his forward to stay onside.
Final third threat
It would be amiss to omit any mention of Olise’s ability as a crosser too. Last season he averaged 2.19 crosses per 90 in all competitions, and completed 25% of these. These statistics alone won’t peak much interest, however, 10 of his 13 assists came from crosses in open play or from set-pieces. He is able to regularly hit dangerous areas with his delivery and shows an awareness of space creation inside the box from the movement of his teammates.
Below is a prime example of this where he sees the Reading player at the front post moving towards the front post and leaving space for his open teammate to receive the cross uncontested.
Olise isn’t just a passer, in fact, far from it. His impact as a dribbler is often what opens up passing lines for him, and as such he is a phenomenal ball progressor. In fact, of all attacking midfielders in the Championship who played at least 500 minutes of football last season, Olise ranked fourth for progressive passes per 90 and third for progressive runs per 90, leaving him as a true outlier in the league.
Just looking at his dribbling output, his 5.61 dribbles per 90 last season with a 57.9% completion, is frankly astounding. He shows a confidence dribbling well inside his own half and will regularly drive forward and take the ball across the halfway line from a deep initial starting position. He keeps the ball close as he dribbles, using his body to protect the ball and entice contact from defenders. When driving with the ball at full tilt he is difficult to stop without giving a foul away.
His acceleration and deceleration on the ball is of a high level, and he breaks away from one defender before slowing down to draw the next player towards him, again then breaking away at pace.
He uses misdirection and feints to give himself enough room to get away from a tackle.
He will move himself into shooting positions and he shows confidence in taking on shots from distance. He will use a shooting stance to play a no-look pass in behind too, just as he does in the image below, with the red arrow showing where he looks like he is going with the ball before sliding in his overlapping teammate.
Olise scored seven goals this past season in all competitions, with one coming from the penalty spot (hence why it isn’t shown on the shot map below).
The majority of his efforts come from outside the area and this is an aspect of his game he could improve on, even if he is accurate and relatively potent from long range. His 5.51 xG from 2020/21, which he outperformed by 1.49 backs up his apparent threat from outside the area.
He will create room for himself in the final third, looking to arrive late into shooting areas. An example of this can be seen in the following sequence of images.
Olise draws two defenders towards him as he carries the ball on the far side, leaving plenty of space centrally. His teammate obliges by arriving into this area, whereupon Olise plays a pass inside.
Olise then moves inside as the ball-carrier draws in the opposition central-midfielder. Olise can then receive the ball in enough space centrally where he can get a show away from this distance.
If no obvious through pass option presents itself as Olise has possession in these types of areas, the young French youth international will take on the shot himself, and he does so with good accuracy and power.
Olise is a well-rounded creative midfielder who can hurt defences in a variety of ways. His ability as a passer makes him a threat in deeper areas where he can pick through passes, whilst he has the skill to find passes quickly and he will benefit a side like Palace who have the quick attackers to cause problems for opponents on counter-attacks.
His delivery from set-pieces will be welcomed by Vieira whilst he can contribute with dangerous crosses from open play too.
Finally, he is a legitimate goal threat too and will be looking to build on his seven goals from last season by continuing to shoot from long distance, but also get into more shooting positions inside the box.
Given his age, Olise represents another exciting young prospect at Palace who will undoubtedly prove to be a very worthwhile and affordable investment.