Chelsea has been without its first summer signing for the entirety of the season, but Hakim Ziyech represents a vital cog.
It may be slightly difficult for many to believe, but Chelsea needs Hakim Ziyech for this team to finally come together. The Blues have started the season without the Moroccan international and so far, the only comfortable league game they’ve had has been Crystal Palace at home. This is not to discredit anything that any of the new and existing players have been doing; however, it is easy to see where Chelsea has been missing the former Ajax man: the final third.
Frank Lampard’s side has lacked a decisive creator who can spot rare passes, as well as execute them. Chelsea would benefit from a player like this in counter attacking situations and in times where the opponent is difficult to break down. Ziyech has a superb ability to whip a difficult cross over a defensive line at just the right height to a winger/fullback running behind the defensive line.
Yes, the Blues have been creating chances, but they’ve not been quality chances. Chelsea has created two big chances per game since the start of the 2020/21 season. This isn’t good enough for a team of this stature, especially compared to other teams like Aston Villa (3.3), Everton (3.2) and Liverpool (3.2). Tottenham Hotspur leads the statistic comfortably with 4.2. The number of clear-cut opportunities is a good measurement for the quality of chances that Chelsea creates. Timo Werner comes from RB Leipzig, who created 3.1 clear-cut chances per game in the Bundesliga last year. Havertz is good at finishing chances, but he can’t finish chances he doesn’t get. Chelsea has a talented squad, however, the number of big chances created has to increase and Ziyech is the key to that.
How can we be sure? Ajax has created 2.5 big chances per game so far this season without Ziyech. With Ziyech in the last few seasons? 4.6 (2019/20), 4.1 (’18/19) and 3.1 (’17/18). In comparison, Chelsea’s highest number of big chances created in a season is lower than Ajax’s lowest number of big chances created in a season over the past three seasons: 2.8 (’19/20), 2.5 (’18/19) and 1.6 (’17/18). The difference is glaring.
Individually, the Blues have also not been superb in terms of their creation. Over the past three seasons, the players that have created the most big chances for the west London side per season have been Cesar Azpilicueta (11), Eden Hazard (18) and Willian (12) in the 2017/18, ’18/19 and ’19/20 seasons respectively. Azpilicueta—the only one of those three remaining in the squad—is a fullback. In comparison, the same player has led in big chances created for Ajax over the past three seasons with 24, 27 and 23. The player? You guessed it, Ziyech.
There is an argument to be made about how easy it would be to replicate those numbers for Chelsea, but chance creation is a product of football intelligence, as well as teammate movement. Ziyech obviously has the X-factor. That argument could also be made for every new player that any club has ever signed. There’s no guarantee that any player could replicate amazing numbers in different leagues, but Ziyech has given reason to show that he can. He has comfortably controlled defenses in the Champions League and even reached a semifinal—all of these as a key player. The new Blues need time to bed themselves in and become a well-oiled machine, but they also need to get used to creating quality chances and having quality chances created for them.
No team ever won the league with a bunch of half chances across 38 games (though Chelsea recorded 0.8 BC per game in the 2016/17 title winning season). Ziyech is an essential element in making this Chelsea team gel. The Blues will not be able to get away with benching the Moroccan magician too much this season for this reason.