Chelsea: Hakim Ziyech and the trick of the eye test

Chelsea defeated Morecambe thanks in part to Hakim Ziyech, who did not pass the eye test for many. Why does that test alone not make the grade?

Chelsea ran out convincing 4-0 winners against League Two side Morecambe, but good team performances, just like awful team performances, almost always create different and often opposite perspectives on individual performances and how well certain players actually played.

This is normal, as watching a game might show things that would be more difficult to spot on a statistics sheet. At the same time, looking at statistics sheets also show things that would be more difficult to spot while watching the game, especially because mostly extreme plays catch the eye, whether it’s extremely good or extremely awful. Judging a player’s performance just by watching them is not likely to give a balanced evaluation of their overall performance, neither does looking at statistics sheets alone.

Ziyech divided opinions against Morecambe in many ways. On the one hand, some thought he was brilliant for the duration of his time on the pitch. Some others thought he was OK, perhaps good, but not as good as some others. Some thought he was downright awful save for a few moments in the game when he made some magnificent passes. The eye test can be deceiving, and while stats do not ever tell the full story, they don’t lie either.

Callum Hudson-Odoi got a lot more plaudits than Hakim Ziyech after the last FA Cup fixture, based largely on the fact that the youngster registered a goal and an assist, unlike Ziyech who only registered an assist. Fans would soon come to the realization that goals and assists are just one small part of a player’s performance.

Some fans would point to Ziyech’s unsuccessful crosses as signs of “poor” performance. Chance creation can be done in many different ways, but two important things that aid it is off the ball movement and technical quality. Whoever is tasked with chance creation, in this case Ziyech, will look for runs being made by his teammates and try to find them with intricate, difficult passes. Creation then becomes trickier and more difficult when runs are rarely being made into the penalty box and most/all of the runs being made are to the flanks.

Against Morecambe there were several passages of play that started from the centerbacks and ended on the flanks with a full back, who played it back into the midfield and the ball kept getting passed around. Runs probably were being made, but very few players (if more than one) had the ability to actually try passes between the lines. This may explain why Ziyech kept playing crosses toward the far post and into the box, because for long spells of the game, those where Chelsea’s best chances of getting behind the opposition. Chance creation is trying many different things until something works. The Moroccan tried to play many passes between the lines which didn’t come off. He tried crosses into the box too and those didn’t seem to be forthcoming.

It’s therefore no coincidence that Chelsea’s second goal came from one of those “Same thing every time! So frustrating!!!” crosses from Ziyech. Ziyech completed six out of nine attempted dribbles, this is more than any other player completed in the match. Callum Hudson-Odoi completed one out of an attempted three. Of course it looked like youngster was completing a lot more. Ziyech, Mount and Hudson-Odoi all misplaced eight (short) passes, but Ziyech won a lot more ground duels than the other two. In fact Ziyech won more ground duels than any other Chelsea player, winning seven out of an attempted 11. This means the Moroccan was very hardworking out of possession, and all that counts towards evaluating a player’s performance.

Ziyech created five chances, including one clear cut chance, compared to Hudson-Odoi three chances, with no clear cut chance. No player created more chances than Ziyech, though Cesar Azpilicueta created more clear cut chances. It is clear that Ziyech led in many creative metrics, and even some defensive ones too, like ground duels.

Watching the match it’s easy to notice the unsuccessful crosses and only give passing acknowledgement to the good things he did. At the end of the day, the eyes see what they want to see, but the eye test can be deceiving. That a player seems to be playing poorly doesn’t mean they are.