Ajax have become an extremely balanced team with plenty of talent in the squad. It is not a coincidence that they reached the Champions League semi-finals and are still in the Eredivisie title battle. One of the players responsible for their decent performance throughout the season is Hakim Ziyech. Staying at Ajax due to complicated circumstances is the most positive turn of events.
An irreplaceable starter for Erik ten Hag’s side, the Moroccan has fit into the manager’s vision and strategy smoothly. It has resulted not only in him contributing greatly to the team’s performance but also in him improving as a player and achieving strong individual numbers.
The 26-year-old has played in 44 games so far this season scoring 20 goals. Not only has his attacking flair been crucial for the team winning games, but his positional sense and slick connection with his teammates have resulted in De Godenzonen playing arguably the most attractive football in Europe this season. Proof of that is his 20 assists in all competitions.
Despite his undeniably strong performance though, a drop in his overall performance has been noticed lately. Is this something normal considering the huge amount of playing time he gets, and has it affected the team’s performance in the Eredivisie title race? This tactical analysis will dive into his performance in detail.
Importance of positional sense
One of Ziyech’s most valuable qualities is his sense of positioning. It’s safe to say that most of his 20 goals thus far have come as a result of his strong off-the-ball movements and positional flair. Although he often switches between the left and the right wing he has been performing equally well on both sides thanks to his perfect timing and vision.
The latest proof of his perfectly measured movement is his goal against Vitesse. He was picked in his most common position lately – as a right winger opposite Dušan Tadić with Kasper Dolberg in the centre. Being positioned on the right flank didn’t stop him from covering greater areas though. This has been key for his impressive performance throughout the season. His opening goal against Vitesse was a showcase of his versatility when it comes to positioning.
In the picture below you can see him centrally in the box, switching positions with Tadić and being perfectly aware of his marker’s positioning.
His dribbling skills and ball control, combined with the distinguished intelligence he shows on the pitch, make him a key figure for Ajax. Take a look at the image below which shows his passes against Willem II.
Despite his position as a right-sided attacking midfielder, his role was a lot more complex. He switched to the left wing and operated centrally too. The team didn’t rely only on his crossing abilities but also on his positioning and defensive contribution.
He made three interceptions and four recoveries in that game, although he failed to win any of his defensive duels. Offensively he produced three shots and dribbled successfully past his opponents on seven out of eight occasions.
Speed and vision
Ziyech’s contribution on the wings has been immense. Ten Hag tends to use his speed and passing ability on the flanks in almost every game, especially against teams that try to stop Ajax’s smooth build-up play by blocking the central passing lanes and Frenkie de Jong in particular.
His football intelligence and eye for newly opened spaces are the main reasons for his 20 assists so far. Having an eye for the tiniest free space and using his creativity has become crucial for his performance. Combining that with a strong connection with his teammates results in Ajax being able to perform at the highest level and be among the top teams in Europe this season, defeating teams like Real Madrid and Juventus.
He averages a total of 4.83 through balls per 90 minutes. His latest contribution against Vitesse found him supporting his teammates with three key passes as well as shooting as many times.
Ajax average 19.23 shots per game with almost half of them being on target. Ziyech’s impact on those indicators is undeniable.
Although there is no noticeable drop in his overall performance, his consistency after the 5-0 win over Breda has changed. The more playing time he gets, the more wavering his indicators become.
Despite having two shots on target against PSV for example, it turns out that only 43% of his actions on the pitch were successful. He has rarely dropped to such numbers before. He has become more hesitant when going into duels which has also dropped his success rate for that indicator. There are some positives of inconsistent attacking stats, as it looks like his defensive actions rates have increased.
It doesn’t mean he is not performing at a high level, but he has just raised the bar too high and every little diversion affects his overall performance. Has this affected Ajax’s team performance, though? Not really. The team have won eight of their last nine games since Ziyech’s ‘drop’ took place. A huge amount of opportunities and goals have been produced and the title challengers look sharp and ready for a battle.
Hakim Ziyech has played a key role in Ajax’s performance this season. The manager’s vision and his style of play compliment the team’s tactics in a perfect way. The Moroccan’s versatility could make the difference in the last few games this term and would be crucial for their performance in the next campaign. For their sake, they’d better make sure he stays in Amsterdam.
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