Patrick Vieira has said that Eberechi Eze is finding it “difficult” while he is not getting much game time at Crystal Palace but has called for patience with the midfielder.
Eze tore his Achilles tendon last May and only made his first steps back in a competitive game in November, coming off the bench against Aston Villa at Selhurst Park.
Since then he’s featured in just six of the following 14 Premier League matches for a combined total of just 108 minutes.
Eze started both of Palace’s FA Cup games against Millwall and Hartlepool but was left on the bench against Stoke with midfielders Conor Gallagher, Luka Milivojevic and match-winner Jairo Riedewald all coming on ahead of him.
“There’s competition and he will have to be patient,” said Vieira on Friday afternoon. “When someone in the position in which he can play is having a little bit of trouble there can be a change.
“He finds it difficult at the moment but that is normal and I have to support him and I strongly believe he has the ability to be part of our team and what we are trying to do.
“I have to be sure we give him the right support to get back his ability and confidence to start playing games. It’s still a long season and we still have games and he will be playing, there’s no doubt about it.”
Vieira’s insistence that Eze will get more time on the pitch as the season progresses is what fans have been hoping to hear but whether it actually corresponds to minutes remains to be seen.
It’s also not a guarantee where Vieira will play Eze. So far this season the 23-year-old has been deployed centrally for brief spells against Man United and Norwich in the league, though most of his minutes have been playing on the left.
Another player struggling for game time but seemingly with less confusion about his best position is French forward Christian Benteke.
The former Celtic man has failed to nail down a regular starting spot in the team of late despite going through a good run of form at the turn of the year that saw him score three and set up two more across four games.
Despite that, Jean-Philippe Mateta has led the line in recent weeks or Vieira has chosen to play with no recognised strikers at all, leaving Mateta, Edouard and Christian Benteke all on the bench, to the ire of some supporters.
“I’m going to change regarding what I want from the striker and what I need from that game,” added Vieira when asked about his tendency to change his forward line.
“Of course, I’m going to take into consideration the player’s form as well – how they have been training, how they play. There is competition and I will be fair to them about who I will choose to play.
“All of them have different characteristics, but there is a competition in place and there are 11 players who start and represent the football club but we have a squad and players know they have to perform if they want to keep their spot as well.”
And while Eze’s position in the team is yet to be entirely figured out, Edouard’s seems a lot more straightforward for Vieira.
“His number one position is as a number nine, a striker,” he said. “Of course, I use him a couple of times on the left side as it is something he can do. But Edouard is a number nine.”