Hakim Ziyech 2019/20: What he’ll bring to Chelsea – scout report
Earlier in the month, it was announced that Chelsea had managed to sign Moroccan international Hakim Ziyech for the upcoming 2020/21 season. Ziyech, who signed with Ajax in 2016, has been instrumental in the Dutch side’s latest pursuits in European competitions – the Europa League run in 2016/17, and the Champions League run in 2018/19, as well as their league form, winning the Eredivisie in 2018/19 as well as the KNVB Cup. On an individual level, he has been in the Eredivisie team of the year three times, been Ajax’s player of the year twice, been in UEFA Champion’s League squad of the season, and CAF’s team of the year. It is fair to say that Chelsea’s first signing since the lifting of their transfer ban and Frank Lampard’s first signing as Chelsea’s manager is a big one. Chelsea fans should feel excited that the club has made a big step in rectifying a weak spot they have in their squad. This tactical analysis will be a scout report analyzing what Ziyech brings to Chelsea, and how he can propel them forward and get them back to a club competing on the highest level.
What makes Ziyech such a fantastic player and a standout from other attackers in Europe is the efficiency in his play. He does this by being efficient while playmaking for his teammates while situating himself to receive the ball in space, and his runs off the ball.
One of Ziyech’s greatest strengths and an aspect of his game that will be a huge asset to this Chelsea side is his playmaking abilities. With 19 assists to his name already this season, he is one of Ajax’s main sources of creativity whilst in attack.
One of the reasons why Ziyech is such a good playmaker is that he is a quick thinker. He may not be as ‘pleasing’ to watch as some other players with the skills and the ‘tekkers’ (though he does have his moments), but he is much quicker and direct. He already knows what he wants to do with the ball before he even receives it. He is consistently aware of what is around him, not only just the defenders but his own teammates as well. He is very quick at anticipating actions, allowing him to play passes quickly, which opposition teams can struggle with.
Chelsea’s most creative players in creating chances this season has been Mason Mount and most consistent in key passes has been Calum Hudson-Odoi. Ziyech’s stats are double what theirs are. He will come into this Chelsea side, and be able to create chances quickly, and more efficiently. It may take some time, as now Ziyech knows his Ajax teammates well, and he understands what their movements will be, but in time he’ll anticipate what his Chelsea teammates do, and what they favour.
Ziyech’s best attribute as a playmaker is that he is efficient. This quick thinking is what Chelsea need in the final third. Both Hudson-Odoi and Mount, who as mentioned above are Chelsea’s most creative players this season, struggle in decision-making aspects, which is understandable since both are quite young. However, this lack of quick thinking can hurt Chelsea, and having Ziyech pulling the strings will allow for quicker interplay from Chelsea in the final third.
Another aspect that makes Ziyech so efficient is, as mentioned earlier, his awareness. The areas in which he receives the ball automatically make it easier for him to look for a pass, rather than having to get into space after receiving the ball, and risk losing possession. He’ll often situate himself in between the lines, unlike some attacking players who will play up against a defender, and then try to create space for themselves once they receive the ball.
Off the ball movement
Once Ziyech releases the ball, he is in constant movement, looking again to get further up the pitch as quickly as possible. He is always ensuring that his teammate has an extra passing option, and in turn disrupt the formation of the opposition’s defence, making holes that either he or another teammate can exploit.
Who does he replace in the starting lineup?
Ziyech is too good of a player to come into Chelsea and be a bench option. He was not bought for squad depth – he was bought to start. So that begs the question of who he replaces in Chelsea’s current starting XI.
Right now, one of Chelsea’s weak points is up top, especially on the wings. Willian and Pedro are two Chelsea wingers who have failed to impress this season. Willian, who has played a total of 34 matches this season only has 10 goal involvements this season, with five goals and five assists. A winger, especially at a team like Chelsea who dominate possession against most teams in the league, should be getting higher figures than that.
Pedro, on the other hand, has only had 15 appearances for Chelsea this season, scoring only one goal, and racking up two assists. He has missed over 65 days due to injury and illness, and it is clear he is not a reliable option for the club moving forward.
While both players’ contracts are up this coming summer, it is unclear whether either or both will be staying at Chelsea for the 2020/21 season. One thing for sure is Ziyech will most likely slide into first pick for Lampard ahead of them.
When comparing the three players this season, Ziyech performs better than the other two in most metrics.
From the get-go, it is clear that Ziyech has a much higher attacking output. Chelsea need goals, and as mentioned above Willian and Pedro are not providing that. In fact, Chelsea this season have had an over-reliance on Tammy Abraham to score goals. Not only is it unrealistic to expect one player to consistently score throughout the season, especially a young player playing his first season in the Premier League, but having him, and only him being the sole focus of attack makes it much easier for opposition defences to limit Chelsea’s chances and goal-scoring opportunities. In the comparison image above, attacking output is calculated by measuring the player’s contributions to the teams’ expected goals for (xGF) per minute played whilst the team is in possession. Ziyech’s attacking output of 97 is much higher than Willian’s 43 and Pedro’s 74. Having Ziyech will help Chelsea be harder to defend against as Ziyech will be much more willing to contribute to actions, especially in the box, than Willian and Pedro are.
One aspect of the comparison image that puts Ziyech in a worse light is ball retention. With Ziyech at a mere 36, it is quite low. However, the thing about Ziyech that differs him from Willian, Pedro, and all the other attackers that Chelsea have really, is that he is a risk-taker. High risk = high reward. His ball retention is low because his touches in the box per 90, progressive runs per 90, and progressive runs into the box per 90 are higher.
Ziyech is willing to take on the risk of losing the ball if it means there is an opportunity to create a chance or be on the end of one. This is something Chelsea desperately need, and one can easily tell this simply by looking at the league table. With 45 goals scored this season, that is nine less than third place Leicester City, and they have conceded nine more goals, leaving Chelsea’s goal difference at eight vs Leicester at 26.
While Ziyech is most likely to replace one of the wingers in the starting XI, he can play attacking midfielder as well, which gives Lampard some options as well. Currently, Chelsea’s starting midfield three if everyone is fit would be Jorginho, N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić. Mason Mount and Ross Barkley have also played in midfield this season. If Lampard is looking for a more attacking option, likely against low block teams who pose little threat going forward, Ziyech could be an option, playing as the highest midfielder. His role would be situating himself in between the lines of the opposition’s block, and arriving late in the box as an extra attacking threat, a role similar to that of Lampard when he was a player. Ziyech would likely replace Kovačić in this situation, as he would be ahead of both Jorginho and Kanté in the set up.
A new era for Chelsea
Lampard’s first signing in Ziyech marks a new era for the club. It is clear that with the transfer ban lifted, they now have an abundance of funds from the sales of last summer (Eden Hazard, David Luiz, and Tomáš Kalas amongst others) to fix problem areas, and then focus on deepening their squad. Chelsea’s owner is ambitious and as a club, they want to be back competing for the Premier League, and the Champions League. It is impossible now to say whether Chelsea will be able to perform at the level that Liverpool and Manchester City have for the past two seasons, but looking at the tactics of Chelsea’s current team, and using analysis, it is clear that acquiring Hakim Ziyech is definitely a step in the right direction.