After re-joining the Reading ranks on a season-long loan in the summer of 2019 from parent club Liverpool, Ovie Ejaria has found himself at home by playing regular minutes at the Madejski Stadium this season. Mark Bowen has played the 22-year-old for a total of 2714 minutes in the Championship alone and this has allowed the youngster to flourish. His performances certainly haven’t gone unnoticed as the loan deal also includes a permanent move in the upcoming summer.
Overview and style of play
Ejaria has played the majority of his minutes in a 4-3-3 formation (41.27%). Here, he is deployed as a left centre-midfielder with the license to move across to the left-hand flank, as shown in the heatmap below. However, he has been used as a left attacking-midfielder and as a central attacking-midfielder this season.
In this Reading side, their midfielders are crucial to their transition from defence to attack, as they play progressive football that focuses on transitioning through the thirds of the pitch. This style of play suits Ejaria perfectly and helps boost his strengths, as I will now go on to analyse.
One of Ejaria’s biggest strengths is his immense ability to wriggle out of tight situations with his great ball control. This allows him to attract in opponents and free up spaces across the pitch for his teammates. Statistically speaking the Englishman’s effective dribbling qualities are showcased by him completing a massive 6.43 dribbles per game, with a high 58.3% success rate. He ranks 9th for most dribbles attempted and 30th for his dribble percentage in the Championship this season. This might not seem like it is a fair ranking but if you factor in how many dribbles he is attempting then this is a very good position for him.
This proves the sheer quality that the Reading star has equipped. A similar player to himself in terms of 1v1 ability would be Kazenga LuaLua who ranks 18th for dribble percentage (62.4%) and 10th for most attempted dribbles in the Championship. Ejaria has only attempted three more dribbles this season than the Luton winger.
In the example above West Bromwich Albion have attempted to suffocate Reading on the far left side of the pitch, by three players closing Ejaria down. However, Ejaria uses his silky skill to split them through the middle and get out of danger. Furthermore, by escaping past three players with ease it allowed his teammate, Andy Rinomhota to attack the space in the middle of the pitch.
This benefits Bowen’s Reading side as Ejaria’s dribbling qualities allows him to break the press of the opposition. Even at the height of six foot he still has great balance and flair that can see him bypass the pressing opponents and exploit the gaps left by the opposition.
Reading’s tactics of playing out from the back will usually attract a press from the opposition to try and force a turnover in Reading’s defensive third. This style relies on players who are technically proficient and press-resistant, Ejaria ticks the boxes for both of these attributes. This is emphasised in the picture above, as Ejaria picks up the ball in-between a five-man press. The midfielder then plays a through ball down the line to his teammate due to him attracting players on the left-hand side.
As proved above, Ejaria is exceptional at finding vacated space, attracting defenders for his teammates to utilise or being able to draw fouls under pressure from the opponents. As stated before he has a high success rate for dribbles but to take his game to the next level he will need to be even more efficient, at times he holds onto the ball too long when he could release the ball earlier to set off a counter-attack, small things like this need to be minimised to progress.
Ejaria is often positioned in the left-half-space. This area on the pitch offers the highest amount of threat in an attacking situation and gives him a number of options to play. Due to Ejaria being a right-footed player on the left-hand side of the pitch, he mostly will drift infield but he can still drive down the line which keeps the defender guessing on where he is going.
When he floats inside to the middle of the pitch, he draws defenders to him and this allows space for his teammates to exploit. We can see in the picture above where he has driven past Queens Park Rangers midfield and attracted the QPR defenders to step up out of position. This allowed Ejaria to slot a ball through the middle of two players and create a big chance for his team.
In the next example seen above, Ejaria has opted to take on his opponents out wide. He sees that both of the defenders are flat and left a gap in-between. He excellently shifts the ball one way then the other to get past them and then he supplies a cross into ‘the corridor of uncertainty’. However, this is an area of Ejaria’s game which needs improving as this season he is only averaging a success rate of 34.5% for crosses per game.
Having a right-footed player on the left-hand side allows the option for them to cut inside or drive down the line, this leaves the defenders guessing where they will go. Ejaria does exactly this, by hugging the sideline which stretches the opponent’s defence. When the opponents are compact he can play down the line as there is more room for him to roam. However, when the defenders are spread across the backline it gives Ejaria space to come inside and threaten from a more central position. This is perfect for Ejaria as he often looks to get a shot off on his right foot by cutting in from the left-hand side.
In the picture above, it clearly shows Ejaria is far more comfortable from starting on the left-hand side then cutting onto his right foot. All of his goals have come from the left segment of the pitch and the majority of his shots on target are also from this side.
In this example above, it shows the Luton defenders don’t want to get touch tight to him as he could go past them down the line. However, by giving him that extra yard gives him enough time to whip it across goal and beat the keeper. Ejaria is an unpredictable player and this makes him so hard to mark.
Ejaria is shining in this Reading side with regular minutes. Ejaria certainly has the technical quality to play a level above but there is a question mark whether he can increase his rate for goals and assists, as he is only on three goals and four assists in the Championship this season. However, Ejaria has been one of Reading’s most outstanding performers this season and he still has a few more years before hitting his prime. The big question now will be, will Liverpool regret letting him go?