Football News

Rafael van der Vaart: Chelsea must start Hakim Ziyech ahead of “blind horse” Timo Werner

By Ben Green

Published: 11:34, 15 April 2021

Rafael van der Vaart believes Thomas Tuchel should “always pick Hakim Ziyech” ahead of “blind horse” Timo Werner when selecting his Chelsea starting line-up.  

Ziyech and Werner both relocated to Cobham in the summer from Ajax and RB Leipzig respectively, but as of yet, neither player has rediscovered the devastating final-third form they exhibited with their former clubs.

Ziyech, 28, was the attacking heartbeat of Erik ten Hag’s scintillating Ajax frontline, combining telepathically with his teammates to rack up 18 direct goal contributions in Eredivisie last term, while Werner, 25, was Julian Nagelsmann’s Saxony scoring fiend, bagging 28 Bundesliga goals in 2019/20 alone.

It was the kind of form set to transform Frank Lampard’s frontline ahead of the season, but injuries and inconsistencies have thus far beset the true potential of both players, which culminated in the eventual dismissal of Chelsea’s record scorer.

There have been signs that both players will eventually reach the epic heights of their previous clubs, with Ziyech’s balletic stride and twinkle-toed exploits giving Tuchel a unique creative option, while Werner’s six Premier League assists — the most at the club — is certainly not to be sniffed at.

Despite this, former Tottenham playmaker Van der Vaart believes Tuchel should drop his German compatriot completely and always select Ziyech, as the 39-capped Morocco international is the Chelsea technocrat’s “best option by far”.

Speaking to Dutch TV station Ziggo Sport, he said: “If I was Thomas Tuchel I would always pick Hakim Ziyech, simply because he is the best option by far.

“He can cut inside and create chances, as can Mason Mount. That is what Olivier Giroud needs.

“Timo Werner is super fast, and maybe that is something good to have in an away game when Chelsea are under pressure.

“But all he does is put his head down and run himself to death.

“Mount is a terrific footballer, and I think he can get even better, but Werner is truly a blind horse.

“He already showed that’s what he is like when he played in Germany – and he’s doing it again now.”

Werner’s concerning scoring form

Although there is certainly more to Werner’s game than goals alone, his devastating output for RB Leipzig last season was undeniably the reason Chelsea brought him to Stamford Bridge, hoping he could follow in the esteemed footsteps of past alumnus, chiefly Didier Drogba, Diego Costa and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

As it stands Werner has notched just five Premier League goals in a Chelsea shirt, a concerning run of form that has seen Tuchel relegate him to the bench, where he has been an unused substitute for the previous two games: the 4-1 demolition of Crystal Palace, and the 1-0 reversal to Porto in the Champions League.

Werner’s six assists and a further two in Europe, highlights the overall package the versatile attacker brings to the equation, but having amassed 34 goals in all competitions last season for Leipzig, which culminated in the club reaching the Champions League semi-final, Chelsea fans were perhaps expecting more.

And, it’s not a case that Werner is just not getting himself into the right positions; he has missed a staggering 16 big chances in the league this season (only Patrick Bamford of Leeds has missed more with 18), while his expected goals (xG) comes in at 9.38, nearly double his actual tally (five).

In fact, his is the biggest goals scored to expected goals (xG) differential in the entire division (4.38), a concerning statistic for the once prolific marksman.

Despite his struggles in the penalty box and Tuchel benching him for the past two games, his manager believes it will just be a matter of time before the Germany international rediscovers his shooting boots, offering a dating analogy earlier this month to explain the predicament.

“This guy scores since he’s five years old,” Tuchel said.

“It’s not the moment to even train extra. Yesterday I sent him in from training because he wanted to do some finishing with us. I said: ‘You don’t need that, your body and your brain knows how to score.’

“If a woman does not want to go out for dinner with you, you cannot force her. You can just step a little bit back, then maybe she will call you up. The goals will come.”