The flow of Chelsea vs Manchester United on Monday night was Exhibit A as to why the five-time Premier League champions prioritised signing a creator like Hakim Ziyech: while the West London club dominated the first half-hour or thereabouts, they never truly opened up Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side at Stamford Bridge in the eventual 2-0 defeat.
Statistics showed that Frank Lampard’s troops registered 17 shots to United’s nine, but only one of those attempts was on target, the away side had three.
Furthermore, and perhaps disappointingly, the Blues created only one clear-cut opportunity, emphasising how many of their attempts were low-percentage efforts.
Chelsea made several great combination from the middle third to final third but lack of finishing touch. 17 shots just 1 on target is shocking for Chelsea standard.— Dzikry Lazuardi (@dzikrylzs) February 17, 2020
Of course, the aforementioned doesn’t include two Chelsea goals ruled out by VAR, but the fact that there was a glut of non-threatening shots demonstrates why so much excitement greeted last week’s news that Ziyech will be playing in West London from next season.
Time and again this season, there have been constant complaints by fans of the club over their proficiency in the final third, as regards creating chances and finishing them off.
When I see Chelsea's progressions from the back, via the midfielders and to the fullbacks & wingers, I see Lampard's great work on display.— AK. (@CFC_Rush) February 20, 2020
Our buildups this season have been phenomenal. The problems lie in the final third and defensively.
Imagine. Match we should have won 4-0. Our finishing and decision making in the final third is still amateurish, as well as our set piece defending.— Alágbàdo 🇳🇬🇳🇬 (@PhxAkin) November 3, 2019
On the one hand, Monday’s defeat by the Red Devils demonstrated this; however their numbers this term somewhat debunks the theory that they’re struggling to fashion out chances.
Lampard’s men have created 68 big chances, joint-third with Leicester City, which is 16 and 30 behind Liverpool and Manchester City respectively. 46 of those opportunities have been missed, third behind the Reds (49) and Man City (58), clearly indicative of their struggles to put chances away.
The sticking point for supporters, perhaps, is how these chances are being created; the quality of through balls in the final third frustrates and many promising openings go begging owing to an inability to either spot a pass or poorly execute one when spotted.
Ziyech, adept at playing in the hole or on the right flank, has impeccable vision in this area of the pitch and isn’t shy to try out a killer pass or risky ball to play in a teammate who could potentially fashion out an opening for his side during an attack.
The Ajax playmaker has topped the Eredivisie assist charts three times in the last four seasons, and with 12 this term trails teammate Dusan Tadic (14) in the race to end as the league’s best playmaker.
He has created the highest number of big chances this term (23), and leads the division for key passes per game (3.9) – Tadic plays 3.7 per game – Joey Veerman in third trails with 2.6 key passes per game, which only reflects the Ajax man’s dominance.
Contrast this with Chelsea’s players: Willian, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi have four assists apiece, the first pair have created the most big chances (7) and the Brazilian plays the most key passes per game with 2.
While the difficulty of both leagues isn’t being taken into consideration, Ziyech’s numbers are without a doubt excellent, and the former Twente man will definitely add an extra bit of quality to Lampard’s side in the attacking third.
At Chelsea, Willian’s inconsistency in the final third often grates, Mount has been criticised frequently this season for not looking up early enough to play obvious through balls and Hudson-Odoi has failed to match his form pre-injury, while Christian Pulisic has been out with injury since December…Ziyech’s arrival couldn’t be more anticipated.
Also, at 26, the Morocco international joins the Blues at a perfect time as he’s just stepped into his prime and could give the London club his best years.
With Pedro Rodriguez seemingly set to depart after five years in the capital and Willian’s contract talks at an impasse, getting Ziyech in before the summer was perfect business for a club that endured so much frustration in January owing to their inability to secure signings or the pricey fees for players being targeted, especially Wilfried Zaha and Jadon Sancho.
The perception among Chelsea supporters about Zaha joining from cross-town rivals Crystal Palace has been mixed, with many of the opinion that the Ivory Coast star isn’t worth the amount being quoted in the press.
The same feelings greeted links to Borussia Dortmund’s prodigious talent Jadon Sancho. Even though fans appreciate the 19-year-old’s undoubted talent, fees north of £100 million being stated have raised eyebrows; the England international is even more expensive than the Palace attacker, whose asking price is reportedly £80 million.
Ziyech at £38 million represents the perfect alternative given his age, skill set and quality, and it’s no surprise his summer move has been met with so much positivity.
In fact, it’s been a while the signing of an attacker has been cheered among supporters of the club, with Chelsea’s purchase of Juan Mata in 2011 and Eden Hazard’s a year later getting so many rave reviews.
Having lost the Belgian to Real Madrid last summer, the purchase of the 26-year-old Moroccan gives Chelsea that x-factor they’ve lacked this season. He can be that Hazard-like figure for the Blues next term, and while this isn’t to suggest he is at the level of the 2015 PFA Player of the Year, it only emphasises how Lampard has missed having someone with these exquisite qualities in the final third.
"What this team has lacked since Hazard's departure is unpredictability in the final third. A clever pass or turn. Something unexpected to disrupt defences when the very capable but somewhat straightforward likes of Mount or Pulisic can't find a gap."https://t.co/EXK44EaHKv— Will Faulks (@willfaulks) February 13, 2020
“I know his qualities; he’s a player we hope can bring creativity,” Lampard told the club’s website after the deal was confirmed last week. “He has a great left foot, plays generally off the right-hand side but can play in behind the frontman as well.
“When you look at us this season, there have been games where we’ve maybe struggled to unlock the door and he’s certainly a player who we hope can bring that bit of creativity. He will be something different for us so we’re excited.”
While the speed with which the playmaker will adapt to English football has been questioned in some quarters, while it's also valid to question why other big teams haven't considered his services, these things shouldn't bother the Blues.
I wonder why there wasn't more competition for Ziyech's signature and Chelsea got him so easily despite his stupendous talent.— Babafemi 🍍 (@BABAFEMlI) February 14, 2020
Lampard looked sullen in the period before the January window closed owing to a lack of signings, but Ziyech's purchase means they're certainly backing their legend as they look to mount a greater challenge next season both domestically and on the continent.