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Hakim Ziyech

Ajax to Chelsea, €40m

Confirmation of the arrival of Hakim Ziyech from Ajax, at the conclusion of 2019/20, will give Frank Lampard his first major signing as Chelsea manager – and significantly later than his appointment. If Lampard’s first major signing taking so long was not confirmation by itself that Chelsea had entered a new area, then the circumstances involved in Ziyech’s arrival should take that confirmation beyond doubt.

He will join in the same transfer window in which Pedro and Willian are expected to leave, and could potentially become the long-term successor to Eden Hazard. Where once Hazard, Willian and Pedro were vying for selection, Mason Mount, Ziyech and Christian Pulisic are likely to do the same. “(Lampard) was such a big player and he was a midfielder so I can learn a lot from him,” Ziyech has since said. “In that regard, I have a lot to learn. I had a good feeling after our talks and that feeling only became stronger. There was no doubt in my mind. I like the style of play; they play really attacking football, and that is something that fits me.”

Tactical analysis
Predominantly a winger, Ziyech’s natural positioning from a very wide starting position on the right means he drives infield with possession, where he poses his greatest threat. His finest asset is the final ball he plays with his left foot, often aimed towards those running from the left. From the inside right channel the deft balls he plays over defences prove similarly potent and accurate, particularly if complemented with a teammate making a well-timed run.

The dip with which Ziyech plays those deliveries is also influential, not only in creating for that teammate, but in avoiding the defending goalkeeper. Lofted balls in behind defences but lacking that dip are easier for goalkeepers to defend; Ziyech is capable of manipulating the ball so that it drops just beyond a defensive line, therefore testing the opposing goalkeeper, and presenting those attacking with fine goalscoring chances.

His ability to cut inside from a wide starting position and to target the goal directly contributes to him also providing a goalscoring threat similar to that posed by one of his predecessors at Chelsea, Arjen Robben. His balance and the speed with which he can horizontally carry possession while being tracked by an opponent enhances that threat.

He is also capable of adding less predictable movements away from a more obvious path, drawing defenders towards him and contributing to the progress he often makes. In congested areas of the pitch shooting opportunities are therefore often created – and he attempts to bend into the far corners of the goal (below). He has also been known to provide whipped crosses from the left, and towards a striker in the penalty area.

Role at Chelsea
Ziyech’s relationship with Ajax right-backs Noussair Mazraoui and Sergiño Dest has contributed to him becoming an influential figure at the Eredivisie club. Their overlapping, supporting runs encourage him to attack as effectively as he does through the inside right channel; without their supporting runs his attacks would prove significantly less potent.

That César Azpilicueta is in his 30s means that Chelsea’s new signing can be expected to attempt to develop a similar relationship with the promising Reece James. Azpilicueta has often provided their attacking width and, from right-back, a regular source of crosses from a slightly withdrawn position. Whoever plays as Chelsea’s right-back, they will need to provide overlapping runs beyond Ziyech into more advanced territory.

Chelsea’s long-term left-sided attacker is also likely to score from the in-swinging deliveries Ziyech attempts from the right (above). Mount, Ross Barkley, Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi have regularly featured under Lampard, and Hudson-Odoi, particularly, owing to his penetrative movements beyond defences, would relish those deliveries.

A further option presented to Lampard could be using Ziyech as Chelsea’s number 10 in his favoured 4-2-3-1. Ajax are capable of being particularly fluid when Ziyech features centrally in a rotating attack. He roams from a central position and into spaces either side of a penalty area, and for Chelsea, Mount, Barkley and Pulisic would be encouraged to attack into the bigger spaces in central territory that would be created by Ziyech’s movements out wide. Through Ziyech and a winger occupying wider positions, further support from an advancing full-back would mean increased options in the final third.

Hakim Ziyech

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