The Cameroon icon recently claimed the Villarreal man could score more often but should the wideman be given room to breathe given his youth?
In a sense, Samuel Eto’o’s recent assessment of Samuel Chukwueze was understandable. After an encouraging breakout season last year, the Nigeria attacker has tailed off somewhat this year.
The wideman netted five goals in 2018/19 while registering two assists in 19 La Liga starts (26 in total) which wasn’t a bad return for a 19-year-old in his first season as a first-team player.
The fact he posted those figures despite the threat of relegation (Villarreal finished 14th, seven points from 18th, after an arduous campaign) and managerial merry-go-round (Javier Calleja was sacked in December, replaced by Luis Garcia shortly after, only to be reappointed in late January) was equally commendable.
Chukwueze could have scored more too, evidenced by his eight big chances missed statistic, the third-highest in the side behind Karl Toko Ekambi (10) and Gerard Moreno (16), two players who played significantly more than the young forward.
This year, however, has seen a drop in the 2015 U-17 World Cup winner’s end product. Before the Spanish top flight’s suspension, the Umuahia-born player had netted three times and assisted a solitary goal. Given there was hope he’d continue the upward trajectory of his maiden year this season, his decline has been a tad disappointing, but certainly not unexpected.
The development of any talent is usually accompanied by growing pains, and the forward’s apparent slump shouldn’t come as a surprise to observers, Eto’o inclusive.
Still, Chukwueze himself is self-aware enough to know he’s got a lot of improving to do in front of goal. He stated that much in an interview in February, where he agreed he could play better.
“Goals come with luck. I have had a couple of chances this season and I make attempts to convert them but you know you just have to keep trying,” the talented winger told AOI. “I’m actually not bothered because it is still a learning process for me and I know very soon what I have been practicing will start manifesting.”
A comparison of the West African’s time at Villarreal presents interesting observations: in his maiden campaign, the wonderkid shot at goal far more than he is currently doing (1.6 shots per game last year, down to 0.8 this season).
While this slightly explains his paltry return so far in front of goal, it’s also brought forth the wideman’s creative side. He’s already created six big chances in 19/20 from the same number of appearances (although 300 minutes fewer), which is four more than he managed last season.
According to Understat, his ‘Expected Assists for’ in the previous campaign was 1.59. This year’s xA of 3.52 puts him in the top five creators for the Yellow Submarine, a major improvement on 18/19 where he just about managed to come in at 10th.
Many critics admonished the talent for being a tad selfish by taking too many shots, and he’s trying to link-up with teammates better than he did last season.
This has, undoubtedly, contributed to a lesser return in front of goal this season and the challenge would be attempting to strike a balance in not only creating chances but finishing them off as well.