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Who is Cheick Doucoure? Gallagher's replacement at Crystal Palace

Posted on July 01, 2022

Had you offered Crystal Palace supporters a 12th-placed finish last season, they'd have certainly taken it. The Eagles underwent a huge overhaul in terms of managerial personnel and style of play 12 months' ago and few could have foreseen Patrick Vieira having such an impressive impact at Selhurst Park so early on given the upheaval in approach following Roy Hodgson's exit.

A key player in their overall campaign was one that, unfortunately for Palace, would only spend a season in south London. Conor Gallagher joined for 2021/22 from Chelsea and quickly established himself as a key man for the Eagles, ending the season with a WhoScored rating of 7.08, that better than any other Palace player.

Vieira was understandably keen to retain his services, but Gallagher will return to Chelsea with his stock high as he seeks to establish himself as a first team regular for Thomas Tuchel's side. A priority for Palace this summer then was landing a replacement for the England international and in Cheick Doucoure, they'll have a like-for-like midfielder to ease Gallagher's departure.

Lens ended last season seventh in Ligue 1 and their solid finish hasn't gone unnoticed. Jonathan Clauss was the star man down the right flank, with Chelsea and Tottenham linked with a move for the France international, while Palace are close to confirming the signing of Doucoure from the French side.

For a Palace side that largely operates in a 4-3-3, and with Gallagher proving vital both on and off the ball, Doucoure has proven he can be the ideal successor to the 22-year-old at Selhurst Park. What was key for Gallagher was that he wouldn't be afraid to get stuck in for the good of his side, and then prepared to make the lung busting runs upfield to support the attack. Indeed, only Wilf Zaha (14) scored more league goals than Gallagher (8) for Palace, while only Tyrick Mitchell (104) made more tackles than the latter (68).

Operating as a box-to-box midfielder, Doucoure has the ability to carry out those duties with aplomb. While he notched just the one goal last term, Doucoure was still on hand to register four assists. For a Lens side that relied heavily on the wing-backs, and Clauss in particular, to stretch opponents, that's a respectable return for the Mali star.

However, Doucoure's best work came in ensuring Lens were not overrun when Clauss got forward. Considering the importance of wing-backs in their 3-4-1-2 setup, Doucoure had to work extremely hard off the ball to ensure Lens weren't caught short when Clauss and Przemyslaw Frankowski sought to join the attack down the right and left, respectively. Forging a solid midfield partnership with Seko Fofana, Doucoure was the more defensive minded of the pair, with the latter's hard work off the ball allowing the former to get forward and support the offensive as noted by his eight league goals.

If Doucoure was fazed at the possibility of facing opposition attackers, he certainly didn't show it as he ranked seventh for tackles and interceptions combined (143) and sixth for possession won the midfield third (128) in France's top tier last term. When he did win the ball, Doucoure was able to to create for others if he did win possession high up the pitch, as noted by a respectable return of 1.3 key passes per 90, yet he is far better suited and shifting the ball to a teammate and allowing others to shoulder the offensive burden.

An 87.5% pass success rate from 57.8 passes per 90, both of which ranked fourth for Lens in Ligue 1 last season, highlighted his quality in possession when he does win the ball. Crucially too is that he is able to beat an opponent to open up angles for himself to maximise where required. While he doesn't seek to drive up field regularly, attempting just 32 dribbles in Ligue 1 last season, Doucoure's dribble success rate of 71.9% was the 11th best of the 182 players to attempt 25 or more dribbles in France's top tier last term.

Gallagher's exit will have been a huge blow for Palace, however they are landing a sufficient replacement in Doucoure, even if a little more defensive minded. He should slot in seamlessly in the midfield three for the Eagles as Vieira seeks to build upon a respectable debut managerial campaign in England.

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