They say nothing can replace the live experience.
When it comes to Hakim Ziyech and the exciting Ajax team he has played in since 2016, this is also the case. I remember watching Ajax dismantle quite a few teams in last season’s Champions League and Ziyech was without doubt one of the standout performers. Fast forward to Stamford Bridge in November 2019, and I had the chance to watch Ziyech live. liveliiinMatthew Harding stand.
What I saw first hand was even better than what I had seen the previous year on TV. This was a player who really knew his way around the pitch and knew how to terrorise Chelsea’s defence. The match ended 4-4 thanks to an astonishing comeback from Chelsea, but Ajax getting 4 on the board was in no small part due to the performance of Ziyech.
The standout moment came when the winger’s free-kick from near the corner flag curled over Kepa Arrizabalaga’s head and hit the far post before rebounding in off the Chelsea goalkeeper for an own goal. After scoring, Ziyech didn’t celebrate, he turned his attention to the Matthew Harding, gave a taunting nod of the head as if to say “Yea? What?”. The whole stand erupted in fury, caught up in the moment.
I remained silent.
I was having an internal monologue thinking, “This guy is serious. I’d love him in a Chelsea shirt!”.
Taking the emotions of that fantastic night out of the equation for a moment, will Ziyech be a right fit for Chelsea? Regular readers may remember that, during my last article, I highlighted Chelsea’s lack of a final ball when we got into wide/dangerous positions. Based on that alone, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Ziyech is going to be a phenomenal buy! His biggest strengths are his crossing, his long shots, through balls and set pieces. Every single one of those criteria I have previously identified as areas Chelsea needed to strengthen. I believe that we have just found a very good solution to all of those areas with a single purchase. Say what you will, but if my “phenomenal” prediction comes to fruition, then that is some smart business!
Statistically, Ziyech also represents great value for money. 11 goals in 36 appearances for Heerenveen, 30 goals in 68 games for his next club Twente, 14 goals in 32 games at International level. What is outstanding though are his contributions to Ajax this season. In 18 Eredivise appearances, he has scored 6 goals and racked up 12 assists! It’s the 12 assists which have got me licking my lips. That is prolific and exactly the sort of creativity Chelsea have been lacking.
The only downside I can see to his purchase is maybe a statement of intent that we will not be pursuing Jadon Sancho and his £100 million asking price. That is just a “maybe” of course, but if reports are to be believed, both Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all after Sancho. That amount of interest will only further inflate Sancho’s price. Who knows, we could end up with Ziyech and Sancho which would be incredibly exciting, but unlikely.
I don’t know if I speak for the entire Chelsea community, but I am really excited about the arrival of Hakim Ziyech – irrespective of what his purchase could insinuate for other transfers. He has shown he can play at the highest level in the Champions League (this season in 6 appearances he has scored 2 and assisted 4). He has shown he is unfazed by hostile environments such as at Stamford Bridge – indeed the Matthew Harding stand jeering him only seemed to fuel his confidence. He is statistically solid and at the prime age of 26, seems to be growing into his powers at the perfect time.
They say nothing can replace the live experience. I personally can’t wait to see him live again at Stamford Bridge.