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Should Everton go back to Ajax for playmaker?

A scouting report on Moroccan #10 Hakim Ziyech

Previews - UEFA Europa League Final
Davy Klaassen with Hakim Ziyech
Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images

The name Hakim Ziyech seems to bring up mixed emotions in the Netherlands. The Dutch media revel in tearing the player down - thanks to some misinterpreted comments in 2016 when still at FC Twente that led to him being vilified and resulting in his refusing to speak to the media in press conferences until his transfer to Ajax Amsterdam at the beginning of the 2016-17 season. Most fans of Ajax don’t see it that way, and neither do football analysts like Sam Planting and Priya Ramesh who think he is the best player in the Eredivisie this season.

With Italian rumour rag Calciomercato claiming that Everton are in the race to snap up Morocco’s #10 ahead of the World Cup where he could well be one of the breakout stars, we take a look at the player, his strengths and weaknesses and what role he could play for the Toffees. Among the other teams interested in his signature are AS Roma and Inter Milan, who have long been scouting the

Ziyech was born in Holland and has never played outside the Eredivisie, spending two seasons each at Heerenveen and Twente (when he was linked with a move to the Blues) before moving to Ajax. The risks inherent there are similar to what Everton have experienced with Davy Klaassen, who looked desperately off-the-pace in his earlier appearances.

What is not in doubt is that Ziyech is more skillful than Klaassen, and is more suited to the true #10 role while the Dutchman is more of a #8. The Moroccan international is a creative force on the pitch, always actively looking for an open teammate and equally comfortable playing the high pressing game as needed.

From Planting’s piece on Ziyech -

“As a creative midfielder, Ziyech possesses all the necessary skills: a sophisticated staircase (sic), an even finer ball treatment, smart positioning, an assumption that always lends an idea, self-confidence in dribbling, the ability to accelerate or slow down at the right moments. - especially - game insight.”

In 200 senior games, he has amassed 65 goals and 75 assists, 8 goals and 14 assists this season along. He does his most damage operating in the half-spaces, the vertical slices either side of center when a pitch is divided lengthwise into into 5 equal parts. The 25-year-old also leads the league in most of the playmaker metrics like key passes completed, dribbles and chances created from setpieces.

It’s not all roses and potential with Ziyech though. There are some flaws to his game, and a lot of the criticism leveled at him comes with basis. Along with his adventure when in possession of the ball is the high related turnover rate. In the physical Premier League, he runs the risk of being muscled off the ball more easily.

Ziyech’s body language is another point that fans and media love to pick up on. Again from Planting -

“His shoulders hang almost permanently down. His gaze is often focused on the ground. His answers for television cameras are almost always concise and stoic.”

Everton fans already irritated by Morgan Schneiderlin will crucify Ziyech at the first sign of adversity if they see that.

And then finally there is his penchant for shooting from distance. He is awful at it and yet averages over three shots a game from outside the box, and rarely ever hitting the frame either. Yer da sitting two rows in front of you at the Gwladys Street end yelling “Shoot!” is going to rip up his season ticket in disgust watching the ball go everywhere but in.

If you thought things improved this season... they didn’t. His output has certainly gotten better, but he continues to choose low-probability shots with minimal expected goal (xG) impact on a consistent basis.

Almost all his shots come from outside the box, and he seems deathly afraid to make runs into the penalty area. That’s something he’s going to have to fix about his game whether he joins Everton or not.

Speaking of Everton, that brings up the question - how does he fit in at Goodison Park, with Gylfi Sigurdsson currently the incumbent #10? Well he doesn’t, really.

Hakim Ziyech characteristics

However, when a player of his talents comes available, especially for a sum that doesn’t make you want to retch with horror, you sign them. Christian Eriksen, who preceded Ziyech at Ajax, had good numbers too but certainly didn’t look anything like the Rolls Royce he has turned into at Tottenham Hotspur.

Even better news for Everton is that Ziyech wants out at Ajax, after multiple run-ins with the media and the fans came to a head this weekend. Ironically, it was at a game that held Evertonians’ interest for different reasons. After a 3-0 loss away at PSV Eindhoven that gave Marcel Brands’ club their third title in eight seasons, Ziyech was accosted by Ajax fans who he was trying to pacify in an ugly situation.

Immediately after, he removed all traces of Ajax from his social media and had already said in a previous interview with Moroccan outlet Lionsdelatlas -

“I think I’m ready [to leave], I’ve said it many times, it’s not new. I want to challenge myself and develop myself, so maybe it’s time to go further and find a new challenge.”

Allez tous sur instagram soutenir notre lions envoyer vos messages de soutien sous le hashtag : #StayStrongZiyech

Posted by Oussoud News on Monday, April 16, 2018

Wayne Rooney should never play #10 again, and Tom Davies’ best role might yet be unknown, but he doesn’t have the vision or passing range to be a playmaker. Whether Klaassen survives the summer or not is not even a factor here. However, paired with a striker with good instincts (like Cenk Tosun), Ziyech could really open up a whole new part of his game, including making late runs into the box much like Eriksen does.

The Blues should really make have a go at getting the Moroccan and then work out which of he and Sigurdsson goes out on the left, or even better, play both in front of Idrissa Gueye and run rings around any smaller club foolish enough to not line up at least two defensive midfielders to stem that Blue tidal wave that will overwhelm them.

We’ll be watching Morocco’s exploits at the World Cup with bated breath, especially if the Toffees haven’t already gotten Ziyech signed up because the international stage could really propel him to stardom.