Welcome to World Class: Hakim Ziyech

Ross Jackson
Jan 5, 2021, 10:00 AM GMT
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When Chelsea confirmed an agreement had been reached with Ajax which would see Hakim Ziyech grace the Premier League, naturally the news was met with unbridled celebration from a Blues faithful dreaming of regaining their place as England’s top dogs.

However, the purchases of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz later in the year saw the capture of Ziyech swallowed up a little in all the commotion, with the pair’s respective fees of and £45m and £75m usurping the figure Chelsea had earlier forked out for the Moroccan.

And yet, while the Bundesliga duo continue to struggle to find their feet in England, Ziyech has already displayed flashes of the brilliance which will undoubtedly see him become a fan favourite at Stamford Bridge – despite being forced to endure multiple spells on the sidelines.

"He’s so cultured and there are so many chances that come from his left foot. You can understand why he’s world class and why Chelsea have signed him. He can score goals and create, he can see a pass. He is always playing forward so the players know he can play them in."

Gary Cahill

Many of the world’s top players have a trademark move which is utterly impossible to defend against – whether it be Lionel Messi skipping inside before wrapping his left foot around the ball or Harry Kane’s effortless ability to shift into a yard of space where he can unleash a right-footed drive – and Ziyech is no different.

The role of a wide forward has developed dramatically over the last decade, so much so that many of the right-forwards we’ve spoken of throughout our Welcome to World Class series have in fact been the main man in their respective side’s forward line. No longer are they expected to sit out on the wing and do the hard work so their striker can grab the headlines.

However, Ziyech is a something of a throwback, and his signature move accentuates that fact.

Of course, he’s got the footwork and the quality to drive at a full-back when the chance presents itself, though his ability to open up his body before swinging a wicked delivery in with his wand of a left foot is something no player in world football can produce with such consistency.

The 27-year-old could assemble an hour-long highlight reel purely consisting of unbelievable crosses whipped towards the back post, arched just out of reach of the opposition backline but too far away from the goalkeeper for him to lunge off his goal line.

It’s almost as though there’s some sort of science behind it - such is the consistence of his delivery - but in truth it’s just pure brilliance.

Bayern Passing GIF by AFC Ajax - Find & Share on GIPHY

This ability to bamboozle defences is possibly one of the reasons the Chelsea hierarchy were so keen to secure the Morocco international’s services, after he carved open the Blues backline in a Champions League Group H clash in November 2019.

With the game finely poised at 1-1, Ziyech received the ball around five yards from the touchline and moved the ball onto his left. Ajax’s Quincy Promes spotted his teammate shifting the ball onto his left and began to make his infield run, yet there was absolutely nothing to be worried about from a Chelsea standpoint – they had nine men behind the ball and held a solid line – but one swipe of the brilliant Ziyech’s left boot opened up the game.

He picked out the Dutchman’s run with unnerving accuracy, providing the perfect weight and direction of cross so that Promes had the simple task of steering the ball home. It was a moment of genius that proved Ziyech had the ability to unlock a defence in a moment like very few players in world football.

In a weird quirk of fate, almost exactly a year on to the day from Ziyech’s masterclass at Stamford Bridge, he provided yet another moment of magic in west London - but this time he was donned in the blue of Chelsea.

After a frustrating start to his Premier League career, the Moroccan’s match-winning display at home to Sheffield United encapsulated everything that’s brilliant about his play, grabbing two assists including an unbelievable cross which allowed Ben Chilwell to give Chelsea the lead. It was almost a carbon copy of his assist a year earlier with Ajax – different team, same outcome.

"We watched Ziyech last season for Ajax and he was magnificent. He reminds me a little bit of Riyad Mahrez but he crosses the ball a little bit more. He’s someone who’s always trying to find a way to unlock defences with his delivery and he has a lot of guile."

Rio Ferdinand

In four seasons at Ajax, Ziyech notched a staggering 82 assists, while his 48 goals in that time period are proof that he’s far more than just a crossing merchant.

Ziyech is already making an impact in the blue of Chelsea
Ziyech is already making an impact in the blue of Chelsea | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In a footballing world where wide forwards are purely judged on their goal output, Ziyech is a refreshing reminder of just how influential a creative wideman can be.

Not many players in world football even come close to possessing the ability Ziyech has to unlock a defence with one swing of a boot. A magician of a player who sees things others can’t and in executing them makes the incredible look simple.  

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