Hakim Ziyech is Ajax’ knight in shining armour

Hakim Ziyech is probably the most inspired signing of Marc Overmars’ tenure as Technical Director while it is surprising that no other teams showed serious interest in the Moroccan midfielder. After two losses in their last two games, ending their run of 20 games without defeat in all competitions, Ajax still head into their match against PSV as favorites. Ziyech is the centre-piece of the entertaining, fast paced and cohesive brand of attacking football that the Amsterdam ArenA has been blessed with this season. Ziyech has stepped up a level with relative ease and has become an influential component of Ajax’s spine.

Ziyech’s time at FC Twente resulted in personal growth and development as he became the best and most complete player in the Eredivisie with double figures in goals and assists in two consecutive seasons. He had 10 goals and 16 assists during the 2014/15 season when he had the likes of Jesus Corona and Luc Castaignos in front of him while he accrued 17 goals and 10 assists during the 2015/16 season to keep a team with youngsters from the youth academy and loanees in the Eredivisie. At Ajax, he started on the right wing before being moved into his more natural midfield position to become so central and pivotal to Ajax’ style of play.

Not only is he the muse of the first team but he also acts as a mentor or an elder brother to the likes of Abdelhak Nouri meaning no matter how long or short he stays, his influence will still be reverberating through the Amsterdam ArenA and De Toekomst. His long limbs help him twist and turn in the tightest of positions while his attacking imagination and state of mind meshed with his impeccable eye for a pass help him constantly move the ball forward when Ajax are in possession. Peter Bosz has struck the right balance between giving the players stringent roles and allowing them to express themselves which can truly be seen when Ziyech plays.

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He drives the ball from deep while also carving out space outside the box to take shots or to thread the ball through to runners in tight pockets of space. He has quickly created partnerships with his new teammates as him and Dolberg have a unique understanding of movement, timing and space which few other strikers and attacking midfielders have. He frequently drops deep to give Lasse Schone a passing option and play exquisite long balls to the flanks but Schone is also highly involved in play further forward so Ziyech also has to constantly move and keep himself available for the experienced Dane to influence play.

His enduringly attacking street footballer style has brought a new dimension to Ajax and as the technical leader of the team, he has made Ajax a much different proposition than they were under Frank De Boer. Bosz is a staunch believer in Johan Cruyff and Ajax’ style of football and was even handpicked by a Cruyff (Jordi) to lead Maccabi Tel Aviv in a six-month stint earlier in the year. He has brought the well co-ordinated high pressing and well-schemed attacks as young players from the youth teams like Dolberg, Matthijs De Ligt, Donny Van De Beek and Andre Onana have developed immensely under his auspices while he has breathed new life into the career of Daley Sinkgraven.

Ziyech has found himself having to pressure the ball immediately possession is lost which is different from the relaxed tactical instruction that he received for the last two years. He has become more and more accustomed with that part of the game as time has moved along this season. Scouts from Europe’s top tier should be cursing themselves as they missed out on a 23-year-old gem who was on the cheap while the KNVB and Danny Blind should do the same as they allowed him to slip through their fingers to represent Morocco. The Eredivisie has seen talented young attacking midfielders come and go but Ziyech is one of a kind.

He bagged his first assist on his debut against Vitesse before getting a hat-trick of assists against PEC Zwolle. His accurate and perfectly weighted set-pieces have proved crucial in a few Ajax games already but his ability to be so nimble on the break is so crucial to the way Ajax break. He had a free-kick that set-up Nick Viergever for a diving header against Vitesse, a corner to set up fellow newcomer Davinson Sanchez against PEC before slipping in Dolberg and Bertrand Traore on the break for them both to score goals in the same game. His performances have not been restricted to the Eredivisie as he took on a ball on the break to drive into the box and finish against Celta Vigo in Spain before scoring another in the reverse fixture.

He also got an assist for Dolberg in De Klassieker this year and will continue to be a menace for defenses starting with PSV Eindhoven and after the winter break. Ajax are still very much in the title race and have a Europa League last 32 date with Legia Warsaw as they have pieced together a good first half of the season after the debacle in Rostov-on-Don. Ziyech already has 4 goals for Morocco in World Cup qualifying and will be sorely missed when he goes to Gabon for the African Cup Of Nations in January and February if his team get out of a group including Cape Verde, Libya and Sao Tome and Principe.

Ziyech already has 7 goals and 6 assists this season as if he returns from AFCON in good shape, he could reach a hat-trick of seasons with double figures in goals and assists. He averages 2 tackles and 1 interception per game which signal his improved defensive work from last season which could continue to improve but his attacking statistics have and still are something to marvel at. He takes an average of 4 shots per game with 3 key passes and 2 dribbles according to WhoScored. According to Squawka, 81% of his 423 passes are forward passes as this makes it understandable that he would have a pass completion percentage as low as 76%. He does complete 2 crosses and 3 long balls per game as since he gives so much in an attacking sense, it is hard to have any qualms about his pass completion but he may need to improve if he is to thrive at a higher level.

Ziyech is Ajax’ second most expensive signing at 11 million euros but it was well worth every penny as he could prove to be if he continues to perform at a high level and Ajax manage to sell him for a much larger fee. It will be interesting to see how Bosz adapts to his absence and to see whether Van De Beek or Nouri will step up in his place as there are few players who can influence games like the Moroccan. He came through the Heerenveen academy and impressed, carried former Eredivisie champions FC Twente on his shoulders for two years and can inspire Ajax to glory after two years in the doldrums.

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