How will Hakim Ziyech impact Chelsea next season?
Image: Erik Drost CC BY-SA 2.0
Given Chelsea's transfer ban, which lasted the duration of the summer transfer window, Frank Lampard was forced to rely on a young lineup for the season. Despite his rivals' inconsistency, the fledgeling Blues boss is yet to cement a Champions League place.
Even if Manchester City elect to follow Chelsea's example by serving their two-year Champions League ban while appealing to the Court for Arbitration of Sport, Lampard's side can't even rely on finishing fifth. If they lose to Manchester United tomorrow and Tottenham merely draw at Villa Park today, three clubs, Sheffield United being the other, will lurk within three points of Chelsea in the table.
In November, the five-time Premier League winners named the league's third-youngest starting line-up for the season, only Arsenal and Manchester United parking more prams in the stadium car park. Breakthrough talents like Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount validate the manager's faith in youth but at the price of inconsistency.
Abraham contributes 13 league goals and 4 assists but the wide players don't supplement him sufficiently. Between them, they log 10 goals and 10 assists in 71 league appearances [Transfermarkt]. Since Hazard's €100 million transfer to Real Madrid, the Londoners lack guile in attack. In his final Premier League season at Stamford Bridge, the Belgian notched 16 goals and 15 assists.
Despite their unexpected liberation from a transfer ban, the Blues did nothing of immediate effect in the January window. On the other hand, they signed Ajaz forward Hakim Ziyech for next season. Skysports reports the deal to be worth £33.3 million with the 26-year-old likely to sign through 2023/24. It's easy to imagine the impact the Moroccan can make.
This campaign, Ziyech's 19 Eredivisie goal involvements come in 18 appearances. He scored a half dozen but primarily feeds teammates. Ziyech leads European football with 21 assists across all competitions, 13 coming in Dutch league play.
Chelsea entered the season with a positive transfer balance of €97.75 million [Transfermarkt]. Ziyech's relatively cheap signing eases the pressure to acquire Jadon Sancho. The 19-year-old reportedly commands a fee exceeding €100 million. If Lampard is content with Ziyech, it opens the door to investing elsewhere in the squad.
Chelsea concede the most goals  among the Premier League's current top six. Lampard can use a centre-half or two. Calls for Nathan Ake's return emphasise the urgency. The defender now stands out for Bournemouth since heading south in 2017. Julian Draxler is mooted as a replacement for Cesc Fabregas' creativity. N'Golo Kante isn't transitioning well into that role. Captain Cesar Azpilicueta is 30, Marcos Alonso 29. Chelsea can afford to be younger at fullback.
The coming summer is important to the Blues future. Manchester City's spending power was dealt a severe blow by UEFA. That could be an opportunity for other title hopefuls. From a Chelsea standpoint, the pressure will be on Lampard more than anyone. His status as a club legend offers a little wiggle room but not much. The Englishman knows how fast his boss drops the axe on those he deems surplus to success.