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Ziyech & Osimhen’s stocks rise in Champions League goalfests

1:20 AM SGT 7/11/19
Victor Osimhen
The African duo maintained their excellent recent form with fine showings in Group H on Tuesday

by James O'Conners

Their sides may both have failed to win in the process of conceding four goals on the road, but Hakim Ziyech and Victor Osimhen’s stocks continued to rise after their Group H performances on Tuesday.

For Ajax Amsterdam, Ziyech was given a relatively rare opportunity to play centrally against Chelsea. After assisting Donny van de Beek’s goal in a 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur last season, the Morocco star again delivered on the big stage with plenty of wealthy Premier League clubs watching.

In the first half, Ziyech’s sublime in-swinging cross from the right was turned home by Quincy Promes. Having seen his deflected shot finished from an offside position against Chelsea in Amsterdam two weeks ago, the pair had combined for a lovely goal in London.

Whilst Opta did not give Ziyech an official assist for Ajax’s third goal, it was undoubtedly again down to his superb delivery. Swinging in a freekick from the right touchline, the ball hit the post and deflected in off Kepa Arrizabalaga’s head.

In the second half, he provided van de Beek with a second goal in the English capital, rifling a pass into his teammate, who controlled instantly and fired in the bottom corner.

Playing centrally is nothing new to Ziyech, but he is not often untrusted with that role in these big Champions League ties. Most often, he is used on the right flank with some freedom to move inside. 

For Premier League clubs scouting him, they will no doubt have pored over dozens of his games in league and continental action, and such is his consistent excellence in the Eredivisie, there is now little to learn from watching him rack up the goal contributions in an obviously inferior league.

Therefore, it’s only natural that most importance will be placed on his Champions League displays. Seeing him as a creative operator, but ultimately still from a wide role has seemingly not convinced any suitors of the highest calibre.

Bayern Munich seemed to sound out his agent for a move as something of Plan C after moves for Callum Hudson-Odoi and Leroy Sane fell through – owing partly to ill-timed injuries – but he could not be much more different than those wide players.

Ziyech is more in the mould of Mesut Ozil, James Rodriguez or Juan Mata, all previously pure, left-footed number tens who have had to play on the sides to be accommodated at times, but were ultimately pushed to the side of their clubs’ plans for the biggest matches.

Not all of the big clubs want genuine wingers, but many do at least want a vertical player who can make runs in-behind defence exactly like Quincy Promes does for Ajax. 

If Ziyech is to receive genuine transfer interest from a club which he doesn’t consider to be a step-down, maybe he needs to play centrally again and look to reinvent himself as more of a Bernardo Silva or Angel Di Maria circa 2014. A player who could be awkwardly identified as a half-space number eight or ten.

He still has some way to go to change the perception of himself as a luxury player, though. 

It is telling that when Ajax went down to nine men at Stamford Bridge, all of Promes, van de Beek and Dusan Tadic remained on the pitch (despite the latter’s ineffectual display thoughout), but Ziyech was immediately withdrawn.

Performances last night can only put him at the forefront of the English club’s transfer thinking though and certainly Tottenham could do worse than take Rafael van der Vaart’s advice and get him as a replacement for Christian Eriksen. Manchester United have been using Andreas Pereira as a number ten behind a front two in a 3-5-2 formation at times, and Ziyech would represent a significant upgrade for them.

United still retains appeal, and opting for a player like the Moroccan is probably what United need – targeting players one tier below world-class level and looking to incrementally build themselves back into a European force.

Osimhen, meanwhile, finally ended his away-day blues with a superb, opportunistic goal at the Mestalla Stadium. Racing onto a charged-down pass, he left Gabriel Paulista for dead before finishing under Jasper Cillessen. It was his first goal on the road since his €12 million move from Sporting Charleroi.

With Lille using a 3-4-3 shape for their second Champions League game in a row, Osimhen had close support from Loic Remy, with Yusuf Yazici tucked in-behind. One of Lille’s best openings to double their first-half lead came when Remy nodded to the Nigeria striker and he played a perfect square pass for Yazici to miss a glorious chance.

Osimhen may be in his first season in France, but you can be sure that the English market will be looking at a striker of his ilk. A rare combination of height and mobility, mid-table Premier League clubs have long sought out those combined skill-sets.

He is perhaps most comparable to Newcastle United’s Joelinton or Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson – great in the channels and a handful in the air even if heading may not be a regular way that they register goals.

Those two sides rank amongst the most counter-attacking in the Premier League in recent matches using STATS Perform’s playing styles data, and any side in the league looking to play on the break and hit the channels should be looking at Osimhen before his value skyrockets.  

A Crystal Palace side who have struggled to effectively play on the break this season by those same metrics could also do with another option in attack, and should Wilfried Zaha be sold, they could afford the fee that Lille would demand.

Osimhen’s next match in Europe is a home game against an Ajax side shorn of their first-choice centre-backs Daley Blind and Joe Veltman. 

If he can make it three out of three in terms of scoring against Lille’s group-stage opponents, then more and more eyes will be cast in his direction.