Eze vs Lookman: The battle of Nigeria's future

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Eze, Lookman
The on-loan Fulham attacker’s strengths are enhanced in West London, while Crystal Palace's approach limits the enthralling attacking midfielder

If anyone needed proof of the dissimilar styles of Crystal Palace and Fulham, both sides’ last Premier League games were the perfect representation.

Roy Hodgson’s Eagles made more blocks (18) than they had attempts (three) but somehow managed to nick a 2-1 win at Brighton & Hove Albion via an improvised Jean-Philippe Mateta flick and late Christian Benteke volley.

Contrast this with Fulham’s encounter with Sheffield United at Craven Cottage last time out, where Ademola Lookman got the Cottagers a deserved winner having played on the front foot for nearly 90 minutes.

The 1-0 victory over the almost condemned Blades put Scott Parker’s men within three points of safety, opening up the possibility of escaping the bottom three this weekend if they win at Selhurst Park and 17th-placed Newcastle United are defeated by Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Lookman’s involvement in that success by and large typifies his overall influence this term in which he’s functioned as one of the side’s creative outlets even when results were at a premium. He’s created seven big chances (seven), ranking in the top 10 in the entire league and with the highest goal involvements in the side (seven).

Particularly noteworthy has been the importance of his contributions so far, which not only helped to secure maximum points last week but saw him assist in creditable draws vs Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

The RB Leipzig loanee also netted in the huge 2-1 win at Leicester City while he was minutes away from being the match-winner at Bramall Lane before Billy Sharp’s 85th-minute equalizer meant the London outfit settled for a point.

While the 23-year-old's season has largely been an individual success, the jury remains out on Eberechi Eze’s, despite Palace’s higher standing in the competition.

The talented playmaker has had his moments in South London in his maiden campaign in the top flight but has been somewhat limited by Hodgson’s conservative tactics. This is a disappointment owing to pre-season expectations to see a Palace side with more ambition to their approach.

The predicted deadly menace of a Wilfried Zaha-Eze double act has been few and far between this term, with the 5-1 defeat of West Bromwich Albion in early December probably one game that highlighted their potential when the shackles are off.

Still, the fact Hodgson needed a first-half red card to the hosts — a side that had conceded 18 times (only Fulham with 19 had a worse defensive record at the time) and scored seven times (third-lowest in the league) — to alter his approach at the Hawthorns was telling.

Even though the 22-year-old’s talent has shone through regardless, the level of his productivity could have been higher at a more progressive side than Palace. Queens Park Rangers averaged 52 percent possession in the Championship last season with Eze averaging 60 touches per game.

While the increased competitiveness of the Premier League and the presence of Zaha at Selhurst Park meant this was likely to be lower this term, Crystal Palace’s average possession of 41 percent has contributed to a mixed debut campaign in top-tier football.

Only two sides (West Bromwich and Newcastle United) have had less of the ball than Hodgson’s team and it’d be a surprise if the Eagles change their approach against a Fulham side whose mean currently reads 49.2 percent.

The experienced English manager may not flinch over the criticism of his side’s approach and will point to three wins in their last five which leaves them 10 points above Sunday afternoon’s visitors as justification for his generally negative approach.

Regardless, neutrals won’t help but think the football shouldn’t be so tepid and undesirable owing to the improvement in overall attacking quality in South London.

A whole lot has changed since the reverse fixture at the Cottage in October where the visitors won 2-1 despite having 36 percent of the ball. Parker’s team have improved significantly at the back and concede fewer chances, which began after a switch to a three-man defence in the winter.

The young manager has reverted to playing a back four since early February in a bid to increase the attacking potential of the side, though, prompting a four-game unbeaten run with four goals scored and the concession of one.

Andre Zambo Anguissa ran the show in midfield against the Blades but Lookman came up trumps in the final third to steer Fulham closer than ever away from the dreaded dropzone. He was involved in a game-high six shot-creating actions, created the joint-highest chances in the game and was generally positive in possession.

It wasn’t the same for Eze, hamstrung by the team’s passive approach as his manager sought to prevent a third straight league defeat.

Both exciting attackers face off in South London with the on-loan Fulham man out to invalidate the current standings and demonstrate the Cottagers' obvious superiority.