My God, Hakim Ziyech is good at football.
We all knew it, and it comes as a surprise to absolutely no one. But it has finally been confirmed: the Moroccan winger is Premier League quality. And he’s going to have no trouble in demonstrating his spine-tingling talents on the biggest stages of all.
Just how good is he, though? To begin with, he’s left-footed. Now, that’s nothing particularly special, but everyone knows there is something different about the way a lefty kicks a bag of wind. And as much as my heart sinks at using this painful cliche, my fingers cannot stop themselves from typing the word ‘wand’.
He has a wand of a left foot. He displayed his wand-iness throughout Chelsea’s eventual 4-1 destruction of Sheffield United, who ultimately could not halt the procession of wicked, cursed crosses that flashed across the face of their goal mouth, or curled perilously beyond their far post.
The inevitable was coming – because that is exactly what Ziyech is: inevitable. There is something very ‘Arjen Robben’ about the winger. No matter how obvious his intentions, or how much you scream at the defender to show him wide, he will not bend to your will. He gets what he wants.
But it wasn’t all blood and relentless thunder. There is a delicacy and invention to his game that only lends to his wizardry. Lofted balls caressed into the path of hungry strikers, who gobble up their chances gleefully, now knowing that the pressure is off. After all, even if you miss one, another opportunity is on the horizon with Ziyech in the team.
And that was the story of the day at Stamford Bridge.
The entire game flowed through the magical toes of their new winger, whose arrival felt much more anticlimactic than that of his fellow summer signings, given his purchase was announced back in February.
With all the hype surrounding the likes of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, combined with a minor injury setback for Ziyech, the Morocco international was the forgotten man of this transfer window bonanza. But forgotten no more.
The 27-year-old grabbed the match by its neck, and stamped his left foot all over proceedings. He provided a couple of warning shots early on, cutting onto that left peg and whipping dangerous balls into the Sheffield United box, but to no avail.
He added some hard quantitative data to the mix on 23 minutes however, curling a vicious in-swinging cross in the six-yard box and onto the thigh of Ben Chilwell, who genuinely could do nothing else but score from such a luxurious delivery.
Aaron Ramsdale will probably feel he should have come and intercepted the ball on its way to the far stick, but in fairness, it was mesmerising in its bend and trajectory. A masterful ball.
The second half was the real show-stopper, though.
With Chelsea pushing to kill the game, Ziyech took that initiative personally, and went all-in on the blunt Blades. His outrageous delivery handed Thiago Silva the chance to clinch the game on 77 minutes, and as with Chilwell, it was harder to miss such a gilt-edged present than to score.
Now in party mode, the winger was having some fun. Drifting infield, Ziyech conducted the game from central pockets of space, floating wonderful passes around the pitch, playing little intricate one-twos with teammates and linking up like a seasoned Blue.
He should have had another assist to his name after lobbing in Werner behind the defence, but the German unusually squandered his big moment. In the end, it didn’t matter. Ziyech’s work was done, and having created more chances in one game than any other player in the Premier League this season, Sheffield United were left wondering what exactly had hit them.
It was a joyous expression of the game we love, and a demonstration of just why we tune in to watch it, even with all the life sucked out in our new covid environment. Ziyech is the reason. He is the sound of the stadium seats slapping the backboard as thousands of fans rise to their feet in expectation. He is the split-second of silence that proceeds the ball crashing into the net. He is everything we miss, and everything we crave from our game.
As for Chelsea and Frank Lampard, this was possibly their most promising sign to date. They have a man who could replace Eden Hazard’s role as a regular match-winner, and partnered alongside Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic, the Blues have a deadly front three at their disposal.
And that’s without considering Havertz.
It’s all coming together for Chelsea and Lampard, and at the centre of it all, is that man Ziyech.