What does Ziyech add to Chelsea? Judging by this nutmeg: ‘Sauce’

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After a long wait, Hakim Ziyech wasted no time showing us exactly what he’s about when he finally made his competitive debut for Chelsea against Southampton on Saturday.

Ziyech the player was hardly unfamiliar to many, not least the Chelsea fans who had seen him devastate their defence in an Ajax shirt last season.

However, his arrival on a Premier League pitch represented a chance for the Moroccan to make an introduction on fresh terms. And he quickly showed us we shouldn’t have doubted his ability to do just that.

Much of the conversation around the 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge will rightly focus on Timo Werner opening his Premier League account. Some impressive stats came out of the performance of Werner, who did, broadly speaking, what you would expect a £50million striker to do.

There will also be a mention of Kai Havertz providing one of those ‘stroll into the box and finish first time’ moments we used to associate with Frank Lampard in his playing days.

With the two Germans thriving, and with Christian Pulisic returning to the starting line-up, there may have been some asking what Chelsea even needed Ziyech for.

The answer, if you hadn’t worked it out already, is sauce.

In the 86th minute of a game, and with a narrow lead to protect, logic dictates you should be attempting to keep hold of the ball and wind the game down.

Anything beyond that needs to be really special, and often even that won’t really be enough when the alternative is keeping what you’ve got.

In failing to evade Jannik Vestergaard’s block and retrieve the ball, Ziyech instantly forces a subset of fan – Chelsea or otherwise – to get extremely red and mad. Maybe his act even has the same impact on Lampard.

However, he also attempts to emphasise that fun has a place in football; while an aggressively results-based approach might spark joy after the fact, ritual humiliation of giant unwieldy defenders can have the same effect within a millisecond of the act being carried out.

As he rolls the ball through Vestergaard’s legs, Ziyech is Crash Bandicoot skipping away from a TNT crate as it is about to explode and take Ripper Roo down with it, attempting to find the perfect view of his enemy’s demise. Sure, there will be moments where his timing is off and the explosion knocks him into the abyss below, but they’re worth it for the times it comes off as planned.

You might argue this is too much praise for what is, at its heart, an incomplete pass.

My response to this is: when did you become such a nerd?

At a time when fixture lists are hugely congested and there’s increased pushback against measures like pay-per-view coverage, why should we settle for proficient football based around making the optimal play at all times? Sometimes we need more, even if that version of more will fail just as often as it succeeds.

Ziyech’s failure to turn this nutmeg into anything more meaningful isn’t to blame for his team’s defenders and goalkeeper snatching a draw from the jaws of victory, and we don’t need to pretend otherwise.

Hakim Ziyech will have more opportunities to own souls as he settles into life at Chelsea, and he’ll have more than 15 minutes on the pitch to build up to them.

If you try to coach the fun out of footballers by stopping them pulling this shit for the simple reason it ‘might not work’, what are you left with?

There are two types of football viewer. There are those who restrict Ziyech’s nutmeg to its eventual outcome, determining the desperation to try something different was part of the problem.

Then there are those who recognise there will come a moment where a novel approach is the only thing capable of breaking a team’s resistance, and that Ziyech will be the man you can call upon to do just that.

By Tom Victor


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