Why Hakim Ziyech Joining Chelsea Doesn’t Mean the End for Willian & Pedro

Having underwhelmed in the January transfer window, Chelsea wasted little time in preparing themselves for next season by striking a deal to sign playmaker Hakim Ziyech from Ajax.

The Blues have agreed to pay an initial €40m to bring the 26-year-old to Stamford Bridge in the summer, and that deal has already got fans talking. What does it mean for the current squad? 

When you look at Chelsea’s present setup, Ziyech’s arrival looks like it will have the biggest impact on both Willian and Pedro, who are both out of contract at the end of the season – but that is not necessarily the case.

Hakim Ziyech

Ziyech has recently risen to prominence as a right winger. In Erik ten Hag’s Ajax system, the Moroccan starts out on the right, and his statistics –  29 goals and 45 assists in the last 18 months – suggest that he feels at home out there.

However, to call Ziyech a winger is not strictly accurate. Because of his outstanding vision and movement, Ten Hag gifts Ziyech almost unrestricted freedom on the pitch, so plenty of the Moroccan’s best moments don’t actually come out wide.

Time and time again, you’ll see Ziyech drift into a central position to impact the entire game, and it’s in that central role that he has spent the majority of his career. That is where he made his name with both Heerenveen and FC Twente.

Hakim Ziyech,Sylla Sow

Manager Frank Lampard is clearly aware of that, telling the media (via ?Goal): “He’s got a great left foot and plays generally off the right-hand side but can play behind the front man. 

“Probably when you look at us this season there have been games where we may have maybe struggled to unlock the door.”

Lampard’s words suggest that, while he will likely deploy Ziyech in this wide role at times, he does not see him as a traditional winger. That’s fair enough really, when you consider that Ziyech does not have the electric pace that you would usually associate with a winger.

Frank Lampard

Instead, there looks to be a place for Ziyech in central midfield, rotating with Mason Mount as ?Chelsea‘s chief creator in the heart of the pitch. Lampard likes his midfielders to drift wide and get involved in the attack, which sounds perfect for Ziyech.

That means that, while Chelsea have added another player capable of playing on the wing, they haven’t exactly strengthened out wide. When Ziyech is deployed centrally, Lampard will need wingers to complement him, so the boss will not offload both ?Willian and ?Pedro purely because of this deal.

The two veteran wide men are both out of contract at the end of the season. As it stands, Pedro looks likely to leave after struggling for minutes, while Willian is yet to agree terms despite repeatedly admitting he wants to. The future is unclear for the two right-wingers.

But that’s exactly what they are – wingers.

Pedro,Willian

Right now, Chelsea don’t have many options there, and letting both Willian and Pedro walk could be catastrophic.

However, that’s not to say that things couldn’t change. Sassuolo’s Jeremie Boga and ?Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho are both thought to be on the radar still, and either player would pose a real threat to the two current Chelsea stars if they joined.

Willian and Pedro could still leave – the latter almost certainly should go after starting just five league games all season – but that will not be down to Ziyech.


For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

5 Winners & 4 Losers After Manchester City’s Champions League Ban

?It’s not a great time to be a Manchester City fan. Not only has their reign of domestic terror come to an abrupt end, but they now have to contend with the small matter of a two-year Champions League ban.

As far as punishments go, things couldn’t really be much worse for City, whose status as a global superpower has certainly come under real threat. However, while they’re struggling, plenty around Europe are laughing.

Let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers from City’s situation.


Winner – Sheffield United

Billy Shar

Before this season, the words ‘?Sheffield United’ and ‘?Champions League’ were never used in the same sentence. Now, with the Blades flying high in the table, it has become a real possibility.

They are firmly in a battle for fifth place, and if ?City’s ban is upheld, then that will be enough to seal a spot in Europe’s elite competition. The ridiculous dream just became ridiculously possible.

No one in the entire world saw this coming, and Sheffield United are loving every second of it all.


Loser – Manchester City

Kevin De Bruyne

An obvious place to start with here. Not only has City’s reputation taken a huge beating, but the possible implications for the future are unreal.

With no Champions League revenue coming in, City stand to make significant losses over the next two years. To avoid that, perhaps City might have to sell some of their stars, with Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva linked with exits, while Pep Guardiola might also have to go as well.

The Cityzens are desperate to win the Champions League, but they won’t be doing that for at least two seasons. If they are forced to tear apart their squad, the wait for the trophy might even be a whole lot longer.?


Winner – Chelsea, Tottenham & Man Utd

Jose Mourinho

With fifth place now (probably) good enough for Champions League qualification, the likes of ?Chelsea, ?Tottenham Hotspur and ?Manchester United have all been handed a huge parachute.

The three are all part of the race for fourth spot. Ordinarily, only one of them can win that, but now even the side who come up short should reserve their spot at Europe’s top table. The pressure has been reduced slightly.

They will all still want to finish on top, but coming in second isn’t a bad alternative anymore.?


Loser – Pep Guardiola

TOPSHOT-FBL-EUR-C1-MAN CITY-TOTTENHAM

Guardiola has faced plenty of questions about his credentials this season. Having failed to win the Champions League since leaving ?Barcelona in 2011, he has faced accusations that he owes his success to ?Lionel Messi.

He is desperate to prove he can go all the way in Europe without the Argentine, and now he can’t. City now need to win the tournament this season, or else Guardiola could be out of the loop for another few years.

The Spaniard has to figure something out, or else that last Champions League triumph will just get further and further away.


Winner – Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo,Matthijs de Ligt

If Guardiola decides he needs to leave in search of another opportunity to lift the big one, you can guarantee ?Juventus will throw their hat into the ring.

Despite hiring Maurizio Sarri just last summer, the chance to sign someone like Guardiola doesn’t come around too often, and this is perhaps the easiest it has ever been to recruit the Spaniard.

If they’re going to do it, it could be now.?


Loser – City’s Ageing Stars

Fernandinho,Nicolas Otamendi

Playing in the Champions League is every player’s dream, but it’s not something that can be enjoyed forever. When players get older, they naturally lose fitness, and that sometimes sees them drop out of that elite tier.

The likes of Fernandinho (34), Sergio Agüero (31) and Kyle Walker (29) are all approaching the later stages of their career, and some won’t be there by the time City return to the Champions League in the 2022/23 season. Can they afford to wait?

?lkay Gündo?an (29), Riyad Mahrez (28) and Kevin De Bruyne (28) will all have to ask questions as well, and they may soon find themselves forced to look for a new home.


Winner – Liverpool

Fabinho

?We’re all in agreement that ?Liverpool are the best team in England, and we’ve all pretty much accepted that City are the second best. 

Well, if City lose all their stars, then Liverpool’s gap to the rest of the chasing pack could grow even larger. They might not even have to be so good to win the league title next season.

Other teams will likely strengthen, but the idea of your toughest rival taking a real hit can only be seen as a boost.


Loser – Liverpool

Liverpool v Chelsea

?While news of City’s struggles will have been met with some real positivity among Liverpool fans, it’s hard not to think about the negative side of it all. Namely, what if City hadn’t cheated?

Last season’s ?Premier League title could have been theirs, as could the 2013/14 trophy, when Steven Gerrard could have finally got his hands on a winner’s medal. Sterling and Luis Suárez might have stayed.

At the end of the day, nothing can be done about it, and the Reds will have the last laugh this season, but what if?


Winner – The Rest of Europe

FBL-EUR-C1-DRAW

Every season in recent years, City are seen as one of the favourites to lift the Champions League. Teams never want to meet City because they are well aware that they could be beaten. Well, not anymore.

The route to Champions League success has now been made far easier because one of Europe’s biggest fish is no longer in the pond. Teams know they do not have to come up against the Cityzens for two years.

Winning the trophy is still a tough task, but knowing that City aren’t there to pick you apart will give teams plenty of confidence.


For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

What Premier League Fans Can Expect From Jadon Sancho Next Season

?It’s European football’s worst kept secret right now, but Jadon Sancho appears to be entering his last few months at Borussia Dortmund ahead of a move back to the Premier League.

The 19-year-old’s got a host of clubs across Europe after his signature, but with a price tag well over £100m, most sides on the continent will already be priced out of a move for Sancho, leaving just a select few teams in England with enough cash for the deal.

He’s the most high profile English player since Wayne Rooney’s breakthrough almost two decades ago and plays for every neutral’s second favourite team, but still there’s a certain mysticism when it comes how Sancho might get on in the Premier League.

Borussia Dortmund v 1. FC Koeln - Bundesliga

To really offer any insight into how Sancho will get on back in England, there are two main areas we’ll need to cover – his ability as part of a team and his ability as an individual.

We’re not going to look at how Sancho might fit in at all the different clubs he’s been linked with – you can find that all over ‘Football Twitter’ – but rather what he’s shown at Borussia Dortmund which will benefit any club he joins this summer.

The first and most obvious talking point for Sancho when it comes to his teamwork is the number of assists he’s already picked up during his short career.

It’s for good reason too. In 85 senior appearances, Sancho has directly set up 40 goals, but it’s not just the sheer numbers which make for impressive viewing.

The England international has assisted 17 different players during his time at Borussia Dortmund, most prominently forming a partnership with Marco Reus, who he’s assisted 10 times.

Marco Reus,Jadon Malik Sancho

Paco Alcácer (seven), Mario Götze (three), Maxi Philipp, Axel Witsel, Raphaël Guerreiro, Julian Brandt, Achraf Hakimi and even Dan-Axel Zagadou (all two) have been assisted by Sancho on more than one occasion since his debut.

The winger’s ability to play alongside anyone really is highlighted in the stats, but it’s also unavoidable that Sancho is always at his best when he’s playing alongside the best players in the world, hence why he’s already formed a partnership with Reus and is now doing the same with Erling Haaland.

It’s not just Sancho passing in the final third which has earned him plaudits in Germany either as he’s impressed with his long-range ability by switching attacks from one side to another, while his one-touch passing in tight areas has helped to cement his reputation as a Straßenfußballer (street footballer).

Away from his passing and ability with Borussia Dortmund’s attacking players, Sancho’s also established himself as part of one of Europe’s most exciting right-sided partnerships alongside Real Madrid loanee Achraf Hakimi.

Although Sancho’s been used across the front three, he’s settled on the right-wing where he’s supported by Hakimi going forward, who makes overlapping and underlapping runs which opposition defences struggle to deal with.

Jadon Sancho,Achraf Hakimi

He won’t be playing alongside Hakimi next season, but it should offer even more excitement for Premier League fans knowing he could have a similar partnership with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James or Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

So that’s what Sancho can bring to a team, but what about as an individual?

The term ‘street footballer’ isn’t something that’s used all that often when it comes to the Premier League, but all the skills Sancho learned playing in concrete cages as a youngster have made him stick out like a sore thumb in the Bundesliga.

It’s easy enough to know the skills and dribbling ability which Sancho naturally has thanks to the way he was brought up in south London, but being a Straßenfußballer is as much about your mentality as it is how you play on the pitch.

At 19, Sancho’s already got an impressive amount of maturity and he always puts the team first. But having been brought up in a culture where nutmegs are worth just as much as a goal, if not even more, the forward stands out even more so than the league’s more technical wingers, like Kingsley Coman or Serge Gnabry.

Jadon Sancho

It’s a way of playing which doesn’t come naturally in European football’s highly technical academies and it will leave him in a fantastic position to adapt back into the Premier League quicker than most.

Ever since his senior debut against Eintracht Frankfurt in October 2017, Sancho’s been earmarked for stardom, but the one area of his game that was really lacking early on at Borussia Dortmund was his ability to score goals.

Sancho didn’t score his first goal for Dortmund until matchday 31 in his first season at the club, but now with another 29 goals to his name, it’s easy to see his threat in the final third is what’s improved the most during his two and a half year spell in Germany.

Since his arrival at the start of the 2017/18 season, only Marco Reus (40) has scored more goals than Sancho across all competitions for Borussia Dortmund.

The 19-year-old still needs to work on becoming more of a threat with his weaker foot and even in the air too – 26 of Sancho’s 30 goals have been right-footed shots – but with plenty of room to develop he’s only going to become more potent in the final third as he gets older.

FBL-GER-BUNDESLIGA-LEVERKUSEN-DORTMUND

For fans in the Premier League, Sancho might only be seen once in a blue moon so it’s understandable that there will be some scepticism about how he’ll get on back in England, as well as a few raised eyebrows at an asking price of at least £100m.

But the teenager has been the crown jewel for Borussia Dortmund over the last two years, not only showing he has what it takes to reach the highest level of the sport, but also that he’ll be able to do it no matter where he ends up at the end of this season.


For more from Ben Carter, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

Why Kepa Arrizabalaga Must Return for Chelsea Against Manchester United

Ahead of Monday’s meeting with Manchester United, one of the biggest questions about Chelsea has been over who will start in goal.

Kepa Arrizabalaga turned himself into public enemy number one with a series of costly errors and an apparent inability to make saves of late. He was deservedly dropped in favour of Willy Caballero against Leicester before the winter break, but now two weeks have passed.

Arrizabalaga has been given plenty of time to reflect on things, and he now must be reinstated to the lineup on Monday.

Willy Caballero,Kepa Arrizabalaga

I know, it’s a terrifying prospect. It’s tough to have faith in Arrizabalaga these days. Almost every time fans have called on him this year, he has let them down. But getting snubbed for the last game needs to be seen as a turning point.

Firstly, let’s not act like Arrizabalaga is an abysmal goalkeeper. Anyone who has watched him for longer than the last six months will know that he is a competent player who is just stuck in a rut form-wise. 

When a player is unable to play their way out of said rut, they have to be dropped, We’ve hit that point, so now it’s time to see what can be done about it.

Manager Frank Lampard has spoken to him about his shortcomings, and Arrizabalaga will be well aware of what he needs to do to prove himself once more, and that’s what the Spaniard needs to get things going again.

Perhaps the biggest change in Arrizabalaga’s mentality will be the awareness that he is not untouchable. His status as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper has brought with it a sort of arrogance – a feeling that he can never be dropped.

Well, it turns out he can.

What that should do is light a fire under Arrizabalaga, who now knows he has to be better if he is to keep his position.

Frank Lampard,Kepa Arrizabalaga

His spot in the ?Chelsea team is important, but his place as Spain’s starting goalkeeper will also mean a lot to Arrizabalaga, and it seems quite fitting that Monday’s game could see him come up against his direct rival, ?David de Gea.

There is not a single player on this planet against whom Arrizabalaga will want to prove his superiority more than De Gea, who has regained his spot in the national team because of the Chelsea man’s faults. That’s a natural desire and competitiveness that cannot be matched at club level, and it should make Arrizabalaga better.

The pair have long been compared. Both were seen as future stars as youngsters, both impressed during their early career in Spain and both struggled tremendously following their respective switches to England.

David de Gea,Kepa Arrizabalaga

What better way for Arrizabalaga to prove that he is out of his funk than by coming out on top against De Gea, who needed his own turning point a few years ago to begin his rise to global superiority.

All in all, facing ?United on Monday will mean more to Arrizabalaga than perhaps any game ever has. His reputation, his Chelsea career and his national team status are all on the line.

If Arrizabalaga is ever going to prove himself in one solitary game, it is this one.


For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

Chelsea & Everton Set for Summer Battle Over Inter Star Matias Vecino

?Chelsea and Everton are both keeping tabs on Inter midfielder Matias Vecino, and the two Premier League clubs are preparing to do battle over the Uruguayan’s signature in the summer. 

The 28-year-old has been a prominent figure for I Nerazzurri this season, featuring 16 times in the league for Antonio Conte’s side, and he even scored a crucial goal in their recent victory in the Milan derby. 

Matias Vecino

But despite his vital contributions for the title contenders this campaign, ?Calcio Mercato reports that Vecino will be available in the summer – and the Italian giants would prefer to strike a deal outside of Serie A – with Chelsea and Everton leading the race to land the midfielder. 

Vecino arrived at San Siro from Fiorentina in 2017 in a deal worth €24m. The Uruguay international’s contract expires in the summer of 2022, meaning that his value will continue to drop as the transfer windows tick by. Chelsea and Everton aren’t alone in their interest with ?Napoli also keen on a deal, and Inter are desperate to sell him in the summer – while hoping to recoup the majority of the sum they paid almost three years ago. 

?I Nerazurri are willing to consider offers in the region of €25m this summer, and the Italian giants would prefer to sell Vecino to a Premier League side, rather than strengthening one of their direct rivals. 

Matias Vecino

This weakens Napoli’s position in negotiating a deal for the ex-Fiorentina star, and puts Chelsea and ?Everton in pole position to sign the dynamic midfielder. ?The Blues are keen to improve their central options in the summer – they’ve already strengthened elsewhere in the squad with the signing of Hakim Ziyech.

Inter are keen to get the midfielder off their books as soon as possible, as they are eyeing a move for Barcelona star ?Arturo Vidal. Conte is a huge admirer of the Chile international, and the pair have previously worked together at Italian champions ?Juventus. 

Let’