Hakim Ziyech proves his worth with dazzling display against Tottenham

Krishan Davis
Ziyech stunned everyone inside Stamford Bridge
Ziyech stunned everyone inside Stamford Bridge / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

Hakim Ziyech's time at Chelsea seemed to have reached it's lowest ebb earlier this week, when he flattered to deceive once again in the intensely frustrating 1-1 draw at Brighton.

Alongside Romelu Lukaku, Ziyech had born the brunt of Chelsea supporters' ire in the days since, irrespective of him scoring the opening goal on the south coast. In fact, it was his non-celebration that seemed to irk the club's following the most.

Eyebrows were raised, then, when the Moroccan was handed another start when rivals Tottenham crossed town on Sunday afternoon - despite the availability of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic.

In the face of adversity, the 28-year-old delivered his finest display since joining the club two years ago and a timely argument for persevering with his unique set of skills.

Often criticised for failing to demonstrate the same levels of guile, creativity and ability to sparkle since arriving at Stamford Bridge from Ajax, Ziyech wound back the years to remind everyone why he enjoyed a meteoric rise in Amsterdam.

From the first whistle, it seemed he was a man on a mission to prove his detractors wrong.

Within the first minute he delivered a pinpoint cross from the right, picking out Romelu Lukaku, but the Belgian was only able to send his shot high into the evening sky. That was the first of a number of trademark, sweeping cross-field passes.

A flair player by trade, that aspect of his game had been lacking in recent weeks, with the attacker perhaps too focused on getting the basics right when his strengths actually lie in the unusual and unexpected.

The full repertoire of his footwork was on show here, however. With his confidence growing, Ziyech dazzled his man with his close control before edging away from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and forcing a fine save from Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal.

His positional fluidity alongside Mason Mount caused Tottenham's two layers of left-sided full-backs infinite problems before half-time, as they dovetailed seamlessly on the right flank. It was a mark of positional understanding and symbiosis with his English counterpart.

He delivered the piece de la resistance two minutes into the second period. Collecting Callum Hudson-Odoi's pass, Ziyech shifted the ball onto his left foot before unleashing a sublime, arching strike into the top right-hand corner of Lloris' goal.

This time there was a celebration, with Ziyech raising his hands to the sky and being mobbed by his teammates as Stamford Bridge erupted. All was forgiven.

What often goes unnoticed is Ziyech's work rate, and that proved invaluable in a hard-fought second half as Chelsea dug in to defend what became a two-goal lead when Thiago Silva headed home.

The Moroccan is always such a willing defensive runner - despite his languid demeanour - and often found himself in the full-back areas having tracked back. His vision and passing ability then come into play, and he rarely wastes the opportunity to play out from the back.

Speaking after the match, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel was clearly thrilled with what his selection risk had produced.

"It was one of his [Ziyech's] best matches today because he was very reliable," he said. "It was also maybe his best position to be on the wing. We had the wide position on the right wing, that position does not normally exist in that particular manner when we play 3-4-3, it is more of a wing back.

"Maybe we can think about doing this. It was good because it gave him the opportunity to take risks where it was possible to take risks. He was very reliable on the ball in moments where it is necessary.

"The work rate was always outstanding. You can always rely on him on work rate and counter-pressing. So yes, well done and he needs to keep on going like everyone else."

This was the kind of all-round performance that Chelsea supporters had glimpsed in YouTube compilations when Ziyech's transfer was announced two years ago as expectation built, and it is the standard he must now attempt to maintain between now and the end of the season - as challenging as that may be.

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