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Ziyech's Chelsea future: Keep or cash in after Morocco playmaker's World Cup upswing?

17:07 SAST 2022/12/19
Hakim Ziyech Chelsea Morocco GFX
The Atlas Lions playmaker flourished at the showpiece, giving the Blues a lot to ponder with January approaching

It is never advisable to make transfer decisions from a small sample size of games, with modern-day scouting occurring for months on end.

Perhaps even more emphasised is the warning to consider international tournaments but not let that prompt a rushed decision.

For Hakim Ziyech and Chelsea, you wonder what happens next after Morocco’s outstanding World Cup in Qatar. The playmaker was almost persona non grata at Cobham before departing for the Atlas Lions’ tournament, starting just two games for the West London side preceding the finals.

Those games were against Southampton at the end of August and the League Cup defeat by Manchester City in November. He was not fancied by Thomas Tuchel in the German tactician’s final days at the Bridge and Graham Potter seldom looked his way after replacing the 2021 Champions League-winning manager in September.

Often looking forlorn and dejected according to the body language police, Blues supporters tended to heave in exasperation whenever he began games or was set to be introduced. Slowly, the perception that he was not giving his all spread. Gradually, the opinion that Ziyech was a player disinterested became accepted.

Supporters were probably even pleased to see the back of him — and, in fairness, the majority of the club’s players — after that calamitous 1-0 loss at the hands of Newcastle United on November 12.

Fast forward a month, and maybe those sentiments have changed. Ziyech is no youngster or unknown quantity whose talents require extended scouting, so the small sample size of games argument may be ignored in his case.

The Morocco star looked motivated under Walid Regragui, contributing at both ends of the pitch. In possession, the former Ajax man was typically positive and direct. Constantly looking for the final ball or the diagonal pass potentially opening up the pitch, the playmaker’s passing range was evident at the global showpiece.

Perhaps, importantly, the 29-year-old’s exemplary work rate without the ball caught the eye. At times he dropped so deep, moonlighting as a right wing-back in a back six and the occupying of the right spaces out of possession meant he was seldom caught off guard.

Regragui’s man management meant Morocco got good Ziyech, the motivated playmaker who offers the required middle and final-third stardust. Rather than the glum-looking attacking midfielder going through the motions.

His rotations with the dynamic Achraf Hakimi on the right flank could theoretically be replicated with Reece James in the Premier League but other pieces in an often disjointed Chelsea squad must coalesce.

Unlike the Atlas Lions’ midfield, the Blues appear light in the middle and seldom compensate for his high-risk high-reward style in possession. Owing to the maverick’s inclination to gift the opposition the ball when his risky approach does not come off, the turnovers put the team under pressure when the structure behind him is disjointed.

Ziyech’s profile is different from Chelsea’s band of attacking midfielders who lack the vision to spot and execute through-balls consistently, giving him an edge when he is motivated and expressive within a unified structure.

That said, the Moroccan was reportedly unwanted in the summer, with the Blues inclined to sell the player they signed from Ajax in 2020. AC Milan’s interest was rumoured but the defending Serie A champions never made a serious offer.

Having seen the Atlas Lion’s World Cup performance, Stefano Pioli’s crew or previously unconvinced interested parties could be convinced to believe in the playmaker’s talent, offering him an avenue out of his recent Chelsea misery.

For the Blues, this could be a win-win situation. They could tap into Ziyech’s ingenuity for creativity in the attacking third or take advantage of any interest generated after the showpiece.

From a position of minimal options, Chelsea’s Wizard of Amsterdam could reap the benefits of his World Cup upswing either way. And that would be no less than he deserves after stalling at Stamford Bridge.