Hakim Ziyech’s emergence as a goal-scorer is very timely for a generally misfiring Chelsea side, struggling for goals and lacking clinical finishing. Ziyech has scored in the last two matches and that’s a very good sign for a Blues squad with a shut-down, lights-out defense—and not much scoring evident. It’s certainly a good thing to rack up clean sheet after clean sheet, especially while you’re depending on own goals and stoppage-time scores to put away an opponent.
Yet, Thomas Tuchel and company have to still be keenly aware that such a strategy and the subsequent outcomes will be at risk when the Blues come up against Porto, who eliminated Juventus from the Champions League. In addition, in a supreme contest tentatively slated for April 17, their biggest test to date in the FA Cup competition will come against Manchester City, who—like Liverpool last season—is running away with the Premier League title.
This is not to in any way minimize the level of difficulty or importance of the two ties against Porto or those against West Brom and Crystal Palace which precede that match. They each present their own challenges and difficulties, especially for a side that can’t seem to break out of a season-long goal drought. Yet, looking ahead to the FA Cup semifinal against City is hard to avoid. The last time the two sides came together at Stamford Bridge, City rolled over the then-Frank Lampard managed Blues completely ending with a 3-1 win in a tie that was not nearly as close as the score indicated.
The Blues were steamrolled by City as Chelsea castaway Kevin De Bruyne reminded them of their bad decision once more by lighting them up and demonstrating how wide the chasm between the home side and the future champions is. Since then, Tuchel has arrived on the scene, and like Lampard before him, has amassed a wonderful unbeaten streak. Lampard racked up 17 games unbeaten earlier this season, while Tuchel’s unbeaten streak stands at 13 at present—both fantastic achievements. Yet, as was cautioned previously in an article to beware that Lampard’s streak could be illusory as Chelsea had yet to beat any top opponents, when the Blues did meet up with tougher sides they couldn’t, and didn’t measure up.
But Tuchel’s streak is different in that Chelsea has indeed beaten some very strong sides. This streak includes Tottenham, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid—a clear difference. In addition, the change of formation to a 3-4-3 is a tactical difference in the two squads placing more emphasis on defense and less on the attack. Ergo, more clean sheets if it works, and it has. Yet, while that is unquestionable and has been effective thus far, what will happen when Chelsea finally matches up with the very top teams in the UK and Champions League? In Man City, the Blues will face not only the best side in England, but also arguably the best in Europe, as well. Although Bayern Munich may have something to say about that.
Should the Blues advance past Porto in the Champions League, they will face either Liverpool or Real Madrid in the quarterfinals. Tough opponents, so the iron of Tuchel’s season awaits ahead with Porto and Man City at Wembley. Those games will determine whether Tuchel’s defense-minded Chelsea is in the same league as the top sides in Europe or not.
One thing is certain, however, Tuchel’s side has to score more goals if it hopes to beat those great squads. It’s time for Tuchel to unlock the scoring talent he has available to him. Fortunately, Ziyech seems ready to help him do just that.