Crystal Palace have been quietly going about their business this summer, reinforcing a squad that outperformed expectations last season. One position where they desperately needed investment, though, was in midfield, with Conor Gallagher returning to parent club Chelsea and captain Luka Milivojevic reportedly touted with a move away.
So, following the arrivals of Sam Johnstone and Malcolm Ebiowei, Palace have now raided Ligue 1 side Lens for Cheick Doucoure. But where does the highly-rated Malian midfielder fit into Patrick Vieira’s plans?
In potentially losing both Gallagher and Milivojevic, Palace are missing a high-volume passer, who possesses a threat from range. Whilst defensively, Milivojevic’s influence over the past couple of seasons has been central to Palace’s style of play. Even last season, he struggled to nail down a starting spot under Vieira.
Doucoure offers an answer to all these issues. Alongside club captain Seko Fofana, the 22-year-old shone as Lens battled their way to a second successive seventh-place finish following their promotion to Ligue 1. It’s been a mesmeric rise for everyone involved with the club.
Whilst Clauss (29) and Fofana (27) are enjoying their prime years, Cheick Doucouré has become a key cog in midfield at 22, earning attention from Crystal Palace.@TomQuartly takes a look at the Malian midfielder who could be headed for Selhurst Park:https://t.co/C5YO5TJril pic.twitter.com/I8qdLTJa27
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) July 3, 2022
A combative midfielder, only Aurelien Tchouameni managed more interceptions in Ligue 1 last season. Once he has won back possession his short, sharp, and incisive range of passing then allows his side to quickly transition the ball out of the press.
Doucoure is equally capable of combining with his teammates as he is forcing the objective with his driving runs. As I examined in my recent article on Crystal Palace’s transfer strategy:
“(Doucoure’s) a rangy player. His long strides help him burst out of pressure. (Whilst) his excellent anticipation stops him from diving into challenges. Instead, he pokes the ball away and bounds up the field, much like Abou Diaby used to do.
Lens enjoyed a magnificent season under manager Franck Haise, and Doucoure was central to this, helping to break up play and transition the ball through midfield.”
His teammate Fofana summarised it brilliantly when he said: “He works in the shadows, and, for me, he is very important. He is incredibly complete. He’s one of the best players I’ve played with. He knows how to shoot from distance, how to pass, break the lines, dribble, and defend.
It’s this ability to consistently affect the game in and around the edge of the box that will have played a major role in the club’s decision to spend £21 million on a player with only two years of top-level experience.
Doucoure’s technique is the perfect example of repetition, repetition, repetition. Hitting the ball with power and accuracy, he always manages to pick out the near post.
A sign of the time he has put into mastering said technique. Palace have relied heavily on goals from midfield in recent seasons, whether it be Milivojevic or Gallagher, and Doucoure will go some way to replacing this influence.
The concentration he has evidently put in on the training ground not only reflects Doucoure’s finishing but also in his defensive work. Though an energetic player, he is not rash and his ability to marshal other players off the ball will prove invaluable in the Premier League.
The Mali international has, however, thrived in a two-man midfield at Lens. So, with Vieira often preferring a 4-3-3 formation, Doucoure may need time to get to grips with the style and combinations favoured by the Frenchman.
Doucoure and Palace appear, at least on the surface, to be a match made in heaven. Whilst the similarities in play style between Ligue 1 and the Premier League often see players adapt more quickly.
There are no guarantees in football, but Crystal Palace have rarely got it wrong in the transfer market over recent years, and as such, Cheick Doucoure looks to be another smart piece of business from the South London outfit.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alexandre Dimou / Icon Sport