Hakim Ziyech could be on the move this summer, with his Chelsea future looking bleaker than ever.
The mercurial 29-year-old playmaker relocated to Stamford Bridge from Ajax in 2020 with high expectations of succeeding. Although there’s a gulf between England’s top division and the Eredivisie, it was his performances in the Champions League against top calibre opposition — including themselves — which caught their eye.
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With that being said, it would be unfair not to discuss or look at his domestic performances. Before joining Ajax, the Dronten-born footballer was seen as Heerenveen’s most promising academy graduate in years. From there he would earn a move to FC Twente, where those gifted talents were starting to be fulfilled.
Truth be told his move to Ajax was a knee-jerk reaction. Peter Bosz’s side had failed to qualify for the Champions League and in a bid to sate disgruntled supporters, the powers that be acquired his signature. In the end it turned out to be an inspired piece of business.
To describe Ziyech as ‘creative’ would be a gross understatement. Originally a deep-lying forward, or a number 10, in Amsterdam he evolved into a wide forward who benefited from a system which allowed him to roam inside and cause havoc.
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His numbers from an Eredivisie perspective were more than impressive. Ziyech’s output led him to win several ‘assist king’ titles and be dubbed the ‘Wizard’ by supporters. A first league campaign in an Ajax jersey saw him create 11 goals, then 15 in 2017/18, 13 in 2018/19, before leaving with 12. To sum this up: Ziyech averaged 12.75 league assists per season while representing Dutch football’s most illustrious club. Not many expected Ziyech to bring this kind of return to Chelsea given he wasn’t guaranteed first-team football, though he has shown flashes of brilliance at the Bridge.
For a while it seemed his fortunes were changing under Thomas Tuchel but it proved to be a false dawn. Given the German’s rotation of talent and systems, Ziyech often finds himself alternating between featuring as one of the two advanced midfielders behind the striker (3-4-2-1) or wide right (4-2-3-1), without ever really establishing himself as a consistent first-teamer.
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Ziyech’s most productive season (2018/19) came with new Manchester United head coach Erik ten Hag stationing him on the right flank. It should be there where Serie A champions Milan — who are favourites to sign him and have reportedly opened talks with his agent — must position him if they are to unlock Ziyech and see him playing at his optimum best again. Alexis Saelemaekers will be his biggest competition for that berth as Rossoneri boss Stefano Pioli favours a 4-2-3-1 shape.
You have to look no further than Ziyech’s teammate Romelu Lukaku to see what Italy’s top-flight can do for an underperforming Premier League star. If such a move comes to fruition, then Ziyech will be hoping for the same.
Chelsea’s next top winger
A departure means there will be space in Tuchel’s squad, and the newly-installed regime are reportedly on the lookout for a winger, one that’ll go straight into Chelsea’s first team. But, who are the possibilities?
1. Raheem Sterling (1/3)
This would be somewhat of a statement acquisition as Chelsea finished 19 points behind champions Manchester City last term. Raheem Sterling finished the campaign with 13 Premier League goals, more than any Chelsea player, but was seldom used in the run-in. He would be a shoo-in to start if the powers that be can reach an agreement with their championship rivals.
2. Raphinha (10/1)
Two extremely productive Premier League seasons in a Leeds United jersey have seen Brazilian forward Raphinha become a much-wanted man. Chelsea aren’t the only London club keen to bring him from Yorkshire, with north London duo Arsenal and Tottenham reportedly keeping tabs.
3. Richarlison (5/2)
Another dreaming of representing Brazil at this year’s World Cup finals, Richarlison will also be hoping to make his Champions League debut before jetting off to Qatar. The Everton star is another who can transform Chelsea’s attack.
4. Ousmane Dembele (1/3)
Before making his big move to Barcelona, where he’s struggled more than excelling, Ousmane Dembele learned at the feet of Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund, and the Frenchman has the option of reuniting with his former manager who knew how to get the best out of him.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo
The definition of a fantasy signing. Reports emerged that Chelsea’s new owner Todd Boehly had met with Cristiano Ronaldo’s super-agent Jorge Mendes, who offered the services of the five-time Ballon d’Or recipient. Manchester United, where Ronaldo is once again calling home, are unlikely to part with their number seven — who finished with 18 league goals last term while mainly playing out wide — unless something extraordinary happens in the final days of this summer’s transfer window.