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Ziyech to AC Milan: Would Chelsea playmaker be a good fit for the Rossoneri?

Chelsea Forward, Hakim Ziyech Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech

Sun, 4 Jul 2021 Source: goal.com

After a chequered debut season at Chelsea, you wouldn’t blame Hakim Ziyech for considering his future at Stamford Bridge.

Brought in to enhance the Blues’ final-third creativity amid a summer of talent acquisition under Frank Lampard last year, a whole lot was expected from the Morocco superstar.

Having witnessed his impressive, intelligent displays for Ajax in the Champions League, supporters of the club had even more reason to be excited.

To say it hasn’t quite gone according to plan will be underplaying the disappointment. However, the same could be said for Kai Havertz and Timo Werner to varying degrees, who endured mixed debut seasons in England.

Regardless, Ziyech seems to be on his way out, while the aforementioned pair will have another year or more to prove their worth in English football.

Interest from AC Milan seems to be growing and it’s pretty easy to see why due to Hakan Calhanoglu’s departure to rivals Inter Milan.

"Milan are looking for an offensive midfielder to replace Calhanoglu, and Ziyech is certainly one of the favorite options for Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara," said Goal Italy's Simone Gambino. "They were monitoring his situation with Chelsea even before Calhanoglu’s choice to join Inter and refuse the Milan offer...and he is now one of the dream targets for this transfer window.

"They appreciate Ziyech's ability to play in several positions, and he could be a target for the No. 10 position but also to play as winger, on the right flank in their 4-2-3-1 scheme."

The Turkey international couldn’t agree to a new deal with the Rossoneri, and they now have to seek a replacement for the departing 27-year-old, who was a vital component in their return to the Champions League.

Even though he receives criticism for blowing hot and cold, the Turk was central to Stefano Pioli’s attacking set-up and was, by and large, the team’s top creator in 2020/21.

No player on the Milan roster got more than Calhanoglu’s nine assists, with Rafael Leao closest to the former Bayer Leverkusen playmaker.

He fashioned out the highest volume of big chances (10) and led the way for key passes per 90 (3.45 p/90), significantly clear of Ante Rebic’s average—1.73 key passes p/90.

In truth, the outgoing playmaker’s numbers are skewed by being on set-piece duty but his contribution to the team’s broader approach shouldn’t be diminished whatsoever. Calhanoglu was involved in 5.99 shot-creating actions per 90 in Serie A last term, unsurprisingly clear of every player that featured significantly under Pioli.

When set-pieces are excluded, this gap between first and second is reduced, but the Turk still ranked higher than his Milan teammates.

Ostensibly, Ziyech will be replacing Calhanoglu’s creativity, but his addition requires the necessary nuance.

Admittedly, the Morocco superstar packs a punch when in full flow, which was witnessed intermittently in 2020/21.

After missing out on Chelsea’s Premier League start, the North African returned to enhance the West Londoners’ quality in the attacking third as Havertz and Werner struggled for form and fitness.

His performances against Krasnodar, Burnley and Sheffield United on the continent and domestically offered supporters a glimpse into the damage he could do, and it appeared the PL were to be beneficiaries of his undoubted talent.

However, a hip injury sustained in early December curtailed his progress and the ex-Ajax man was absent for the remainder of 2020.

Ziyech returned to a side in turmoil as Lampard’s reign degenerated into chaos with on-field performances unrecognisable. In a sense, the Moroccan’s performances never recovered as he struggled to hit the heights of an impressive spell in the autumn.

Despite coming up trumps in some big games under Thomas Tuchel, he was nothing more than a rotational option under the German and was strangely played out of position at times.

Notwithstanding, no player bettered the 28-year-old’s 5.38 shot-creating actions per 90 and only Callum Hudson-Odoi marginally outdid the playmaker for in-play moves leading to shots. 2.62 key passes p/90 was only outshined by Hudson-Odoi (2.63) and Mason Mount (2.80), with the latter’s set-pieces possibly skewing the comparison in his favour.

It's by no means a done deal that Ziyech will depart, with Goal's Chelsea correspondent Nizaar Kinsella giving his opinion on any potential move.

"Milan's interest is to take him on loan which I find highly speculative with only a very high loan fee or obligation to buy likely to tip the deal in their favour," he began. "Amid their interest in Ziyech, they also want [Olivier] Giroud and [Tiemoue] Bakayoko, having also signed [Fikayo] Tomori.

"I don't think he will leave in the summer as Chelsea's wish will be to earn as much of the £33 million fee that they paid for him back through a sale. That's highly unlikely looking at the financial efforts of Covid."

Without question, Ziyech’s creativity and open-play contribution indicate Milan’s Calhanoglu loss won’t be damaging. However, could the team’s overall balance suffer?

The Turkey international mostly played in the hole — and sometimes as a wide playmaker down the left — but Ziyech’s time at Ajax and Chelsea have demonstrated how he fares better as a wide playmaker on the right flank.

Of course, the immediate reaction to posit the African simply taking up the creativity burden down his preferred side is the obvious suggestion, still, it potentially impacts the balance of Pioli’s team.

Alexis Saelemaekers and Samu Castillejo played down the right flank last season and their defensive shift was noticeable. The Belgian and Spaniard ranked highest for pressures per 90, whereas Calhanoglu didn’t press as intensely as the pair — 23.3, 25.0 and 13.8 pressures per 90 respectively.

Ziyech received excessive stick for his seemingly lethargic approach by Chelsea supporters and while he harried the opposition far more than Calhanoglu, his 17.2 pressures p/90 still falls short by a distance.

Saelemaekers and Castillejo are mostly unsuited to playing on the opposite flank, which immediately raises questions about the team’s overall balance if Milan sign the Moroccan.

All three are also more willing ball carriers than the ex-Ajax man, indicating how Pioli’s team may attack differently if they tempt the playmaker away from Chelsea.

Gambino believes that other transfer targets could be better fits for Milan.

"Keep in mind that Milan are following many offensive midfielders," he continued. "James Rodriguez is the hottest name at the moment, while that they are close to a deal with Real Madrid for Brahim Diaz's return and they could consider to make some investments for a striker and a right winger too.

"He could be an option if Chelsea would be open to a loan deal with option to buy, maybe also in the final days of this transfer window."

While there are obvious benefits of having Ziyech at Milanello if the deal goes through, it’ll be fascinating to see how Pioli alters his approach to suit the Morocco star as the Rossoneri hope to mount an assault on the Scudetto and thrive on their return to the Champions League.

Source: goal.com