BY SAM SMITH
Eberechi Eze’s history of good performances against Leeds United did not come into Roy Hodgson’s thinking when the Crystal Palace boss handed the midfielder a start against the Whites.
Eze was superb as the Eagles dismantled Marcelo Bielsa’s side at Selhurst Park. The 22-year-old scored a wonderful free-kick, having already delivered the corner from which Scott Dann opened the scoring in the 4-1 win.
The midfielder’s displays against Leeds for Queens Park Rangers have previously been praised, despite him having never scored against them before Saturday. He had three wins from six appearances against the Yorkshire outfit.
Eze has had to be patient for chances since his summer move from West London, this was just his third Premier League start and his first since October 3. But Hodgson’s decision to put him in the starting XI in place of Jeffrey Schlupp was vindicated.
“His performances against Leeds previously did not enter into my thoughts at all because our analysis of what Leeds do has all been since they have been in the Premier League and what they have done against other Premier League teams,” Hodgson said.
“We have not analysed their performances in the Championship. In terms of bringing him in, when you have a squad like we have at the moment, before every game you are asking yourself: ‘would this be the right moment to introduce, or reintroduce a player like Eze?’.
“You wonder: ‘is it the right moment for someone else, who hasn’t perhaps been playing badly at all, just to stand down in this game to give this guy a chance?’. It really wasn’t much more complicated than that.
“Eberechi’s performances in training have been very consistent, very good right the way through. His work rate, his attitude, his desire. When he lost his place after the Chelsea game, it wasn’t in particular because we were disappointed with him in any way, it was just because Jeff Schlupp was back and we wanted to see what Jeff could do in that situation.
“There were no weird and wonderful thoughts behind our decision [with the team selection], it was quite simply that James McArthur was injured and came back into the team. Jordan Ayew, who had been out for a couple of weeks isolating after getting Covid-19 when he went to play for Ghana, he was back in the fray again and I thought it was the right moment to put him back in the team in this particular game.”
Wilfried Zaha was also excellent against Leeds. The Ivorian played a defence-splitting pass to Patrick van Aanholt, whose cross was turned into the goal by Helder Costa to make the score 3-1.
It was an important goal for Palace at a time when Leeds appeared to be finding a way back into the game. The South Londoners’ former loanee Patrick Bamford had only just scored to halve the Eagles’ lead.
Midway through the second half, Zaha collected Cheikhou Kouyate’s pass, ran at the Leeds back four and passed to Jordan Ayew. The Ghanaian took a touch before scoring the fourth goal that ultimately secured Palace’s first three points since their win at Fulham two weeks ago.
Hodgson felt that both Eze and Ayew – who was making his first start since testing positive for Coronavirus – allowed Zaha to thrive.
“[Eze’s] performance was so good. He was able to get on the ball in midfield and run with it, which was sometimes a problem for the Leeds defence because of the space they allowed us in that area,” the 73-year-old said.
“I also thought that Jordan Ayew’s performance, as well, gave a lot of freedom to Wilf. He took a lot of the heat off Wilf in the attacking positions, so I wouldn’t put it down purely to Eberechi Eze. But I do think he had a very good game, and I am delighted with his performance.”
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