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Pat Nevin: Why Hakim will be wise to ways to stop him

Columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin continues to analyse Hakim Ziyech after his man-of-the-match performance on Saturday and explains why his team-mates will be queuing up to benefit…


Last week on this page I was chuntering on about how impressed I was by Hakim Ziyech, maybe even to the point of gushing just a little, or indeed a lot. The thing is I didn’t think I was being even slightly over the top, because what I saw in his first two games was enough to convince me that he could be something close to the missing link of creativity we have been looking for, well for over a year to be honest.

Most of us Chelsea-minded types were impressed already but by the time he walked off the park after destroying Sheffield United on Saturday, he had gained millions more fans. It was a magnificent performance showing little glimpses that reminded you of the best of Eden Hazard at one moment and then Cesc Fabregas’s genius two minutes later.

Okay, so it was ‘only the Blades’ some might say and yes, things will be tougher against the likes of Man City and Liverpool, but he has enough technical ability to live and thrive very easily in that company too I reckon. We will find out soon enough, but it is noticeable how many chances we appear to be making and indeed scoring since Ziyech started against Krasnodar. We have played four games and have a current running scoreline of 14-1!

'These are good times and I bet Hakim and indeed the rest of the lads wanted anything other than a two-week break for the Blues.'

photo of Pat Nevin Pat Nevin

So there is his vision, stunning delivery with his left foot, while his right foot is pretty hot as well. He can score as well as creating but it is that ability to see gaps and deliver the ball into them that is the most noticeable thing at the moment. In short, it all looks very good, but of course because it looks good, everyone else has been watching him now and maybe the element of surprise will be diminished? Will this have an influence on his effectiveness in the short to medium term?

If you are an opposition coach the first thing you have to do against him now is a no-brainer, you have to get him ‘shown down the line’ on that right-hand side by the full-back and hopefully the covering midfielder. It is better dealing with a decent right-foot cross than that vicious, bordering-on-unstoppable left-foot screamer he has in his locker. The thing is, it is obvious players have been trying to do that to Hakim for years and he is wise to it. If they over-cover he just goes inside further and releases the space for his own overlapping full-back. That creates just as big a problem for the oppo, as Reece James is probably the only player who could argue with Hakim about having the best delivery in the squad just now.

As the new players have arrived and been integrated into the team, many of us have been waiting for the on-field understandings to blossom. Sometimes these can take a while, but I can already see something special with Reece and Hakim. You might stop one, but that will create space for the other.

Judging by their styles and match intelligence, I will be surprised if Christian Pulisic and Ben Chilwell do not develop the same level of understanding on the other wing. It is not just up front that changes have been visible. Quite clearly Kurt Zouma is loving his growing partnership with Thiago Silva, but I will be honest and say that any centre-back would feel he could develop something special with our Brazilian Rolls Royce.

Everyone is however getting in on the act with Hakim. Timo Werner has obviously figured out that he is a good guy to know. Every time Hakim gets the ball, Timo is off haring into space knowing that Hakim can find him nine times out of ten when he is ahead of him. If that ball is coming in from the right wing, Timo will be on that back post. He was very unlucky not to score there on Saturday when he hit the crossbar. It is not just Timo who will be hanging around that area, Pulisic will be hovering there too. If they, and indeed we, all know that left-foot cross from wide right is going to be whipped wickedly towards that back post, then so does Ben Chilwell clearly, as he notched from there too at the weekend.

This isn’t news to us though is it? Doubtless we all recall Hakim’s incredible goal against us for Ajax in that incredible 4-4 game at Stamford Bridge in the last Champions League campaign, but have a look at the visitors’ second goal if you haven’t seen it in a while. Look familiar?

These are good times and I bet Hakim and indeed the rest of the lads wanted anything other than a two-week break for the Blues. When form is good you just want the games to keep coming thick and fast, especially with the back-up we have when we do get the odd injury. Other managers are going on about the tough schedule, and I understand that, but funnily enough it doesn’t seem to be very high on Frank’s list of concerns. Lamps isn’t really a moaner anyway in the press, he just tends to get on with things, most of the time accepting you just have to take the good with the bad and that includes luck.

This break does however give Frank a chance to sit back and consider the next group of games. There will be enough players around day to day for training who haven’t gone on international duty, but the run of intriguing matches is mouth-watering and must have crossed his mind. After Newcastle, there are three more Champions League games to enjoy, with Spurs and Leeds United squeezed in between them. This will be a huge amount of fun.

For some Chelsea fans of a certain vintage with long memories, beating Leeds United would be just as sweet as beating Spurs, even with Jose Mourinho hanging around north London. Right now, his team have scored the second most goals in the Premier league this season, which is very impressive for a Jose side, though the six against 10-man Manchester United did help rather a lot.  

It is not quite as impressive as the Premier League’s top scorers so far, Chelsea. I wonder if Frank has looked as far ahead as Spurs yet. He has out-thought Jose tactically already, but I guess even if he has considered it, he will not tell us. He will only discuss one game at a time, but we can project forward a bit further.

I just hope all the big names are fit and available for all these games, it is going to be one of the pivotal times of the season. It could also be one of the most entertaining.
 

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