BY EDMUND BRACK
Crystal Palace forward Odsonne Edouard says he expects a “good battle” between himself and Jean-Philippe Mateta this season for the centre forward spot in Patrick Vieira’s starting line-up.
The Eagles begin their 10th straight season in the Premier League tonight against Arsenal at Selhurst Park, and the question of who gets the nod from the boss could become one of the themes of the campaign.
Edouard scored two in the final pre-season test – a 4-2 win against French side Montpellier – and was handed the lone forward starting role by Vieira, with Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew either side of him.
The 24-year-old joined the Eagles last summer from Celtic in a deal worth in the region of £14million, and hit the ground running at Selhurst, scoring two goals as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur on his debut.
But towards the halfway point of the season Vieira chose to pick Mateta, who had only 60 minutes of Premier League football to his name before Boxing Day, as the lone striker in the side.
Mateta scored five goals in the second half of the season and kept Edouard out of the side, with the latter only making eight starts come the turn of the year.
Vieira has predominantly played a 4-3-3 since arriving in South London, which only provided one spot for a centre-forward.
“It’s a good battle,” said Edouard, who admitted that, despite being deployed at left-wing at times during last season, his favourite role is as a number nine.
“It’s important to have some competition in the team, and Mateta is a good player and a good striker, so we’ll see. I need to work hard this week.”
Edouard jetted out with Vieira and half of the senior squad to Singapore and Australia, starting the friendlies against Liverpool and Leeds United. “I’m feeling good,” he said. “It’s good for us to win the last game before the start of the season. We’ll be ready for Arsenal.
“It was a good pre-season – we worked very hard and want to be ready for the first game.”
During his time at Celtic Park, Edouard scored 88 goals in 179 appearances, lifted three Scottish Premiership titles, won four domestic trophies and finished the 2019-20 season as the league’s top goalscorer.
He signed a four-year deal with Palace but admitted adapting to life in the Premier League has not been easy.
“It was a good season, [but] it’s not easy to come from Scotland and play in England because it’s the best league in the world,” Edouard said. “But the team helped me to adapt very well, and I’m looking forward to this season.
“Scotland is very different – everything is different. The technique, the intensity [of the league], the [style] of the teams that we play against – it was very different.”
Eberechi Eze impressed during the latter stages of last season as he returned from his spell on the sidelines due to the serious Achilles injury he suffered ahead of the penultimate game of the 2020-21 season.
And the Greenwich-born attacking midfielder has been one of the standout performers from pre-season, scoring in the 3-0 win against QPR and picking up two assists in the win against Montpellier.
“He’s a good player, said Edouard. “He’s very talented, and I’m happy for him because he worked hard last year to come back from his injury. If he’s fit, then it’s good for the team.
“He will work hard to play well this season.”
Wilfried Zaha has also carried over his fine form into this season, scoring a brace against Gillingham and QPR, while also opening the scoring against Montpellier.
Zaha has also supplied three assists throughout pre-season.
The Ivorian Palace academy graduate, who is the club’s record Premier League appearance holder and goalscorer, recorded his best tally in front of goal last season under Patrick Vieira, bagging 15 goals.
“He’s a very important player for us, so it’s good,” said Edouard of Zaha’s pre-season form. “It’s good because he’s fit, he scores a lot of goals, and he can help the team to be better.”
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