Could in-form Jeffrey Schlupp be Ghana’s trump card at the AFCON?
CAF’s official Twitter account incorrectly credited Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp with Ghana’s goal in their 1-0 win against Kenya on Saturday.
In reality, he had been an unused substitute after his recall to the squad for the Black Stars’ final AFCON 2019 qualifier.
His excellent club form for Palace could not be ignored and had prompted Kwesi Appiah to bring him back into the fold.
In Tuesday’s friendly match against Mauritania, Schlupp started in a much-changed lineup and lasted 58 minutes before being replaced by club teammate Jordan Ayew.
It was his first appearance of any kind of the national side in 18 months, and the wideman hasn’t made a competitive start for the Stars in three years; it’s an eye-catching stat for a player who played a significant role in a Premier League title triumph in recent seasons.
For Palace this season, he is enjoying one of his best Premier League campaigns on an individual level. He won the club’s Player of the Month award for February, as voted for by the fans, after two goals, an assist and a penalty won in five games.
However, it has not been an easy season for the wideman.
After scoring in the opening day win against Fulham—a near-post shot from Patrick Van Aanholt’s assist—Palace lost six of their next eight matches.
Schlupp started five of those, but his displays against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Everton had been disappointing and the fans were calling for him to be dropped.
He did not start a single one of the next eight Premier League matches, although he did net a consolation goal as a substitute in the defeat by West Ham United—a header after a short corner.
His form began to change in an unexpected 3-2 victory at Manchester City, when, used in an unfamiliar narrow role in the left centre, he found the net with a fine low shot across Ederson’s goal.
Although he has played much of his time in the Premier League as a left-back, left wing-back or left midfielder, Roy Hodgson has found a hybrid position from where Schlupp can aid defence and attack.
His job is to tuck in narrowly when the ball is on the opposite flank, whilst doing Wilfried Zaha’s defending on the left side when Palace are under pressure. This frees the Ivorian up to focus on his attacking game, enabling him to play more advanced and more centrally.
Schlupp has the energy to track opposition full-backs, but also the dribbling and running ability in central areas to be an attacking weapon.
On transition, he joins the attack, whilst always keeping an eye on the back door during ‘rest defence’. Whilst Palace are on the attack, Schlupp is already mindful of stopping counter attacks. He is not afraid to get into the box though and that has led to tangible results.
Against Fulham in February, a crucial match in the relegation battle, Schlupp netted the second goal, following up after Michy Batshuayi’s shot was parried.
With Zaha missing that day, Ayew and Max Meyer had shared the wide left forward role, meaning Schlupp’s job defensively as the left central midfielder was especially key.
He also won a penalty in that clash as he challenged for a deep cross with Cyrus Christie. For both goals, he was in the opposition box, highlighting his new role.
Roy Hodgson praised the Ghana man after game, as per Football London:
“I've always believed in Schlupp. I believe in him as a left-back, I believe in him as a left-sided player and I believe in him as a left midfield player in a three because he has a lot of qualities.
“It's great if you're going to write something positive about him, because it certainly backs up what we feel about him and he's been a little hard done by.
“It's quite strange that players that sometimes receive the fanfare and in particular the players who are heralded by the fans aren't always the ones that we coaches think are the most important people in terms of helping us to win games.”
Since then, his displays have continued to be excellent, as he netted a fine solo goal against Doncaster Rovers in the FA Cup, picking up the ball on the halfway line and carrying it into the opposition box before firing into the far bottom corner via a deflection.
In Palace’s 3-1 win at Burnley, Schlupp’s cross was turned into his own net by Phil Bardsley. Once again, he had burst into the box to attack the back post after Zaha’s dribble.
Having a central midfield player able to constantly arrive in goalscoring areas has given Hodgson’s men a completely different element.
Now back in the Ghana reckoning at just the right time, he will be hopeful of making the squad for the June Nations Cup in Egypt.
With Lumor Agbenyenu seemingly the first-choice left-back, and Christian Atsu favourite to start on the left of midfield, Schlupp’s best chance of involvement could be as one of three central midfielders.
One subplot of Ghana’s international break was Kwadwo Asamoah’s reported displeasure with being asked to play as a left-back for the national team.
Schlupp could be the beneficiary; he’s a natural replacement at left-back, and it remains to be seen whether there will be a place for both men on the plane in June.
The former Leicester man is also an option at wing-back, and featured in this role—notably—as the Foxes survived relegation in 2015.
The decision to change formation that season, with Schlupp and Marc Albrighton as wing-backs, was pivotal in the East Midlanders winning six of the last eight matches.
Whatever happens when the squad is announced, Schlupp can be proud of his displays this season at club level. There’s little more he could realistically have done to earn a spot in Appiah’s plans.
He deserves a lot of credit for reinventing himself this term.