Hakim Ziyech was the standout performer for Chelsea in their 2-2 draw with Tottenham on Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge. The Moroccan netted twice in front of a raucous home crowd excited to be back ahead of the new campaign.
Ziyech has caught the eye over pre-season for his performances and supporters will be pondering whether he is about to become one of Thomas Tuchel’s key figures.
After struggling for consistent minutes last season whilst dealing with injury issues and adapting to a new league, the last few weeks have given hope Chelsea’s £35m investment on the former Ajax man will not be seen as a mistake.
What Ziyech has shown in the previous two games against London rivals Arsenal and Spurs, is that he needs the freedom to express his greatest talents. The 28-year-old glided across the pitch, found intelligent pockets of space and received the ball in good areas to cause havoc.
Ziyech started Wednesday night’s game on the right of an attacking trio with Kai Havertz and Timo Werner. The same three started Sunday’s game at The Emirates. Ziyech played at times what could be deemed a ‘false nine’ role behind the German duo in the 2-1 win over Arsenal, allowing him room to drop deeper and thread passes behind a high Arsenal backline for the speed of Werner and Havertz to exploit.
Chelsea’s first goal demonstrated this exact pattern, with Ziyech finding Werner with tons of grass to run into before the forward found his German peer Havertz to finish exquisitely.
It is hard to brush past the moment in the second period where the winger somehow managed to miss an open goal from a position where it was seemingly easier to score. Though his overall game in terms of creating high quality chances made it a positive afternoon.
The setup from Tuchel against Spurs was slightly altered with Havertz playing off the left, Werner as the central attacker and Ziyech starting off his more favoured right sided position.
Apart from his influence on the ball, one of the elements of Ziyech’s performance that should be appreciated is his intensity in pressing which is vitally important in Tuchel’s system. Whenever the chance presented itself Ziyech was there to win back possession high up the pitch. Restricting the time allowed for Tottenham when they tried to play out from the hosts press.
When Ziyech got the ball, he was absolutely devastating.
N’Golo Kante’s perfect interception on Lucas Moura was a game changing moment that opened the space for Ziyech, who had placed himself in a central position ready to capitalise on the switch in possession.
Once he received the ball he instantly drove forward, forcing Tottenham’s centre-back pairing of Eric Dier and Japhet Tanganga to retreat as Werner made a run wide to give his teammate a passing option. Though Ziyech had other ideas, deciding to drill an effort into the bottom corner beyond Pierluigi Gollini.
The Moroccan continued to penetrate similar space when taking up central positions. A brilliantly crisp pass from Mateo Kovacic found Ziyech again with room to create, this time stopping the ball dead before quickly seeing the room find Werner placed in between Dier and Tanganga.
The pass unleashed Werner who took the ball round onrushing keeper Gollini and confidently finished. Though as current football law states, the offside flag must be raised on Werner whenever he puts the ball in the net. Replays have shown the goal should have stood and Ziyech’s assist was denied.
Ziyech would double the Blues’ lead early in the second half, once again starting from a deeper central position as the attack built up on the left with Werner, Havertz and Marcos Alonso exchanging passes.
The forward’s anticipation to once again be in the perfect space paid dividends when Alonso’s sliding pass found Ziyech reacting first before placing a left-footed shot into the opposite corner with class.
What Wednesday proved is that Ziyech’s unique talent craves a bespoke role, rather than another cog in a machine of automatons. Tuchel’s Chelsea are a coordinated machine that is hard to break down, but at times has lacked a more extroverted maverick to offer an alternative way to open up opposing defences.
Similar to how Cesc Fabregas once was the creative hub of Chelsea, Hakim Ziyech now needs to fulfil a similar role. To maximise the once titled “Wizard of Amsterdam” Tuchel needs to allow Ziyech the freedom to play in his sandbox and work in the shadows. He can venture into dangerous areas frequently and his wand of a left foot has the magic to unlock defences.
It is easy to forget the bright start he had under Frank Lampard last autumn in games against Sheffield United and Burnley. An opening strike at home to Atletico Madrid in the knockout rounds of the Champions League and goals against Manchester City in the FA Cup Semi-Final and Premier League prove this is a player that can influence big matches.
Getting the ball to the feet of Ziyech in central areas might not always be as easy as Arsenal and Spurs made it look given the wide space they allowed Chelsea’s attackers, but this pre-season has highlighted the talent so many supporters got excited about when the transfer was completed in February 2020.
Source by Football London