Chelsea took the football world by storm with their sensational spending spree last summer where they secured the services of some very talented players. While the West London club roped in Timo Werner and Kai Havertz from the Bundesliga, they also tapped into the Ligue 1 to get Thiago Silva and Édouard Mendy.
While all of the mentioned names stamped a substantial impact in some form or the other as Chelsea won the Champions League, the man who kicked it all off had an underwhelming, injury-riddled season – barring certain flashes of brilliance. Hakim Ziyech was Chelsea’s first signing ahead of the 2020/21 season, coming off the back of a two-window transfer embargo.
Despite Chelsea securing his services from Ajax for an estimated fee of €40m as early as February 2020, Ziyech could not make his debut for the club until September 2020 owing to an injury. Though he had a great start to his life in the royal blue shirt with goals in both of his first two starts for Chelsea, Ziyech got injured again ahead of the festive schedule – and Chelsea struggled under Frank Lampard until the manager was relieved of his duties.
Thomas Tuchel’s ascension to the helm at Chelsea meant that Ziyech had to settle for a bit-part role rather than being the club’s chief creative influence that he was under Lampard, but the Moroccan made his ability show with a well-taken goal against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals. Hakim Ziyech struck the match-winner against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final and backed it up with another goal against the same opposition in the league.
With more versatile players ahead of him in the pecking order, Ziyech was used as an able squad option and was an unused substitute as Chelsea won the Champions League against Manchester City in May.
A fresh and full pre-season lay ahead for the first time in his Chelsea spell, and the Moroccan took the opportunity with both hands as he looked to impress the head coach ahead of the upcoming season.
Ziyech kicked things off with a hat-trick against Peterborough United in a behind-closed-doors friendly, and also scored twice against Tottenham Hotspur in their Mind Series charity friendly. He started every pre-season game and looked the sharpest he has ever seen in a Chelsea shirt, and his will and ability to shoot at the first time of asking looked like an attribute that not many have in the current squad. Ziyech capped off what was a brilliant pre-season with a goal against Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup.
Starting just behind Werner and Havertz in the hole – a position that highlights his best strengths, Ziyech looked like the player that wreaked havoc for Ajax in the knock-out stages of their memorable Champions League run in 2019.
Ziyech also showed glimpses of a sharpened sense of positioning, as he found himself on the end of a low cross from Havertz to send Chelsea into the lead in Belfast. But there were more injury issues on the horizon for Ziyech, as he was taken off before half-time with his arm in a sling after challenging for an aerial duel and landing badly.
While the injury initially looked like a dislocation of the shoulder, Ziyech was back in training in under a week – and is now in contention for a starting eleven spot against Arsenal this week.
Even though Ziyech was brilliant in pre-season, his spot in the starting line-up will be contested by Mason Mount and new signing Romelu Lukaku – but the Moroccan provides Tuchel with a profile that is hard to find in a squad as talented as Chelsea’s.
Ziyech’s creative numbers outshine Mount even though Mason Mount is a tireless performer who can trackback as well as press opposition defenders more efficiently – Ziyech has produced 5.33 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes over the past year, ranking him in the 96th percentile amongst his peers in the top five European leagues.
Hakim is also an excellent progressor of the ball, as he made 5.80 progressive passes per 90 minutes over the last year – ranking him in the 95th percentile amongst peers.
In the 2020/21 league season, Ziyech racked up 0.28 expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes – ranking him in the 93rd percentile amongst attacking midfielders or wingers in the English top-flight for the last season. Ziyech’s wide range of passing also makes him a unique option for Tuchel to have in his arsenal, as he made 0.46 through balls and 3.23 crosses per 90 minutes – the Moroccan is statistically one of the best creators in the league as he racked up 4.07 shot-creating actions from open play, ranking in the 96th percentile.
In comparison, Mount racked up only 2.77 shot-creating actions from open play – although Mount is statistically a much better option for the dead-ball deliveries. Ziyech’s advanced metric numbers suggest that he will do an excellent job playing behind two strikers, and his pre-season performances merit him a starting spot against Arsenal this weekend.
The Moroccan can slot in behind either the Werner and Havertz pairing in Tuchel’s 3-4-3 system, or new man Romelu Lukaku and his strike partner (Werner/Havertz) in case Tuchel decides to start with their shiny and brand new €115m record signing upfront.
In case Tuchel decides to resort to a back four any time throughout the course of the season, Ziyech merits a starting spot on the right flank over Callum Hudson-Odoi. If his form is anything to go by, Ziyech provides a different creative dimension to Chelsea if played with the correct players to cover for his lack of work rate.
Ziyech has an aura of an effortless wizard about him, and he has come up with important moments in important games – which forced Tuchel to give him a chance amidst speculation about a possible move to AC Milan earlier this summer. The transition from the Dutch Eredivisie, where he had played all his senior career to the most physically demanding league in the world is not an easy prospect – especially not for a 27-year-old with an injury record.
If he can put his injury issues aside, the ‘wizard of Amsterdam’ can possibly resurgence this season at Stamford Bridge.