Wednesday night’s results in the Championship presented interesting ramifications for two of the division’s talented players: Said Benrahma and Eberechi Eze.
The Algerian, despite not being directly involved in any of Brentford's goals in a 3-0 success at Reading, gave yet another all-round good performance, while the Queens Park Rangers playmaker surprisingly toiled in their West London derby defeat by Fulham which ended 2-1 at Loftus Road.
Benrahma’s playmaking was evident at the Madejski Stadium, as he set up a staggering seven shooting opportunities against the Royals, five more than teammate Joshua Da Silva, who was second-highest for the Bees on the night.
That win put Thomas Frank’s side within two points of a flailing West Bromwich Albion side winless in four games, although the Baggies duly restored their five-point advantage by winning away at Sheffield Wednesday on Wednesday.
The push for automatic promotion was unforeseen pre-pandemic given The Albion held a reasonable lead over third-placed Fulham, but three wins on the trot since football’s return, including successes over the Cottagers and the Baggies, saw Brentford temporarily supplant their neighbours into third, applying substantial pressure on Slaven Bilic’s side.
Benrahma has been pivotal to those victories, particularly against Scott Parker’s team at Craven Cottage in their first game after the lockdown. The North African opened the scoring with two minutes of normal time to play before playing in Emiliano Marcondes on the counter in stoppage time to seal a 2-0 success.
Despite a reduced influence against West Bromwich, the 24-year-old was still one of the team’s better players in a hard-fought 1-0 triumph, while he was arguably the team’s best performer in Tuesday’s 2-0 win, even though he neither scored nor assisted.
It’s not been the best of restarts for Eze, however, with QPR losing three on the spin after the Championship returned in June.
Performances have dipped since a brilliant showing against Barnsley in their first game back, with successive underwhelming showings vs Charlton Athletic and Fulham seeing Mark Warburton’s team fall 11 points behind sixth-place.
Their extreme reliance on the Anglo-Nigerian, while understandable, is astonishing and they often struggle to find any sort of rhythm when he’s out of sorts. He certainly was on Tuesday, failing to complete all five attempted dribbles, a surprising return for the division’s second-best in this regard. Against Charlton, he created nothing and simply couldn’t get into the game.
However, two below-par performances by the QPR star’s high standards shouldn’t distract from what has been a brilliant individual season in an otherwise average side.
Eze leads the way as top scorer (12), top assister (eight) and for shots per game (1.8), while he’s created the most clear-cut chances (13) and is the team’s best dribbler. With a goal every 295 minutes, he’s got the second-best scoring frequency in the team (behind Jordan Hugill who scores every 233 minutes) and is just behind Ryan Manning for key passes per game (1.9 to 1.8).
He’s excelled in these metrics despite playing in several positions all year, featuring in central midfield, attacking midfield and out wide, but his showings have been undermined and overshadowed by QPR’s collective struggles.
The 22-year-old is by far the most consistent in Warburton’s team, tasked with creating and scoring to a fair degree of success: the London outfit, despite being 15th, have the fourth-best attack with 59 goals, behind Benrahma’s Brentford (70), West Bromwich (64) and Leeds United (60), third, second and first in the standings respectively.
They have been sabotaged by their leaky rearguard that has let in 66 goals, third-highest in the league and more than two of the three sides in the relegation spots.
Eze despite playing at a similar level with Benrahma, unfortunately, lacks the supporting cast of the hugely talented Algerian, evidenced by the last two gameweeks. When the North African neither scored or assisted, other teammates stepped up to win the points for the Bees which puts them on the tails of the Throstles.
Rangers, on the other hand, have seen playoff hopes probably swatted away having been six points adrift before the enforced break (they’re now 11 points behind sixth).
The Algeria international may get a higher share of the plaudits, but the Anglo-Nigerian has more goal involvements (20 to 19) and is the more accomplished dribbler.
Also, Eze completes more passes (86 to 78 percent), although Benrahma completes a higher volume in the opposition half per game (24.6 to 20.9), while the QPR man is unsurprisingly more involved in build-up play, averaging 12 passes per game in his half while the ex-Nice forward averages 4.8 per game.
The England U-21 international also wins more duels (53 to 46 percent), wins more fouls and loses the ball less frequently. Benrahma, though, creates more shooting opportunities (2.3 to 1.8 key passes per match), although Eze sets up more big chances (13 to 10), despite playing deeper intermittently.
In truth, it’s hard to separate both playmakers for technical quality but there’s a feeling QPR need the Anglo-Nigerian more than Brentford rely on their Algerian attacker. Ollie Watkins (the Championship’s joint-highest scorer) and Bryan Mbeumo have contributed 26 and 21 goals respectively, which puts them in the league's top 10 alongside Eze and Benrahma.
While three players are catapulting the Bees to a possible promotion spot, the ex-Millwall youth player is arguably a lone wolf at Rangers, carrying a load of the responsibility in the attacking third.
Both playmakers have had impressive campaigns but while one fits in with a well-rounded group chasing automatic promotion, the other is a one-man wrecking ball helping an average side punch above their weight.