With Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew having left England to represent their respective countries in the African Cup of Nation (AFCON) tournament this month, Crystal Palace face a spell without their usual wide attackers. While this is a big loss to Palace, it does present other players with a much needed opportunity to play regular football for Patrick Vieira’s men.
Michael Olise is one of those men who will be desperate to seize this chance, having joined the Eagles from Championship side Reading in the summer for just over £8 million. The FA Cup third round tie against Millwall presented Vieira with the perfect opportunity to take another good look at Olise prior to trusting him to fill the enormous void left by the temporarily departed wide-men.
Olise star man against Millwall
This is an opportunity that Olise seized with both hands. After being Palace’s liveliest player in a poor first half, it took Olise just one minute of the second half to bring Palace level and quieten a hostile Millwall crowd inside The Den. The winger received the ball on the right hand side, before cutting in and curling a delightful finish in off of the far post. His celebration, running back to the halfway line, showed his intent.
Just 12 minutes later he had superbly dribbled down the right again, before cutting back onto his left foot and delicately crossing the ball onto the head of the grateful Jean-Philippe Mateta who applied the finishing touch. A quick-fire goal and assist from the 20-year-old former France under-18 international secured a 2-1 victory for his side and showed that he could turn his first half promise into results.
The former Reading player is a tricky dribbler who loves to get the ball onto his cultured left foot so that he can cause maximum damage to the opposition. He is a highly promising individual who, with a run of games looks sure to displace Jordan Ayew as a regular in the near future. His time in the Championship will have served him well in terms of the physical side of the game and, despite his diminutive figure, he does not seem fazed by defenders who want to kick him. He almost scored a carbon copy of his goal soon after too, cutting in from the right and hitting the same far post, although the ball favoured Millwall this time and bounced to safety.
Premier League chance to shine
Olise is said to be a player that Vieira was very keen to sign when he arrived at Selhurst Park in the summer, and the French manager has forced his compatriot to be patient this season, easing him into action. The 20-year-old has played 13 times in the league this season, but has only started twice. Although, in that time he has still managed a very respectable two league goals and three assists in his maiden Premier league campaign.
With Ayew and Zaha missing, Olise will not be able to match their collective contributions to the Palace side on his own. This is why it is such good news for Palace that Eberechi Eze is back fit and available, having only managed two Premier League appearances so far this season following a long-term injury. Eze started on the left against Millwall, with Olise on the right, and Mateta through the middle. While the minutes will be extremely valuable to Eze ahead of this month, he had a difficult game and struggled to make an impact.
If Eze can return to his pre-injury form ,and Olise manages to sustain the level of performance he managed in the FA Cup third round tie, then it could be a very positive month at Palace. Add Odsonne Edouard and Christian Benteke to those that started in the front line against Millwall, and suddenly Palace have a collection of attacking players, all with something of a point to prove. That competition, with positions up for grabs, should help raise the performance of each individual which can only be a good thing for the club.
Ayew and, in particular, Zaha are big losses, but Palace are now in a position where they are far less reliant on individual players than they have been in previous years. Any notion of Palace being a one-man team, completely reliant on Zaha’s magic, has been quashed this season following the squad overhaul in the summer. Goals are spread more evenly across the side, with midfielder Conor Gallagher the side’s top scorer in the league with six goals.
Vieira has changed a lot at Palace in a short period of time. He has a team that can deal with absentees, and the 2-1 win over Millwall was the perfect example of this. However, there are bigger tests to come this month, in the shape of rivals Brighton and title-chasing Liverpool. How Palace deal with these games will be determined by how well the likes of Olise deputise.
If Olise performs as well as early indicators have shown he can, he may find himself a mainstay in the Palace team for the rest of the season and beyond.