Can Ziyech fill Manchester United's creative void?
Background image: Richard Humphrey, CC BY-SA 2.0
Manchester United have gone behind to Crystal Palace, West Ham, Newcastle and Bournemouth this season and failed to retrieve even one point from any of those games. Understandably, it's a real concern for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His side lacks conviction, particularly when staring adversity in the face. The Red Devils are looking for that star quality in the final third, moreover, someone who can create a chance out of nothing.
You have to cast your mind back to March to see the last time when United completed a come-from-behind victory. It came against Southampton at Old Trafford. The time before that took place on that remarkable night in Paris - a fairytale which suddenly became the origin of a nightmare period for the club. Solskjaer was appointed permanent boss after that game and from that moment forward, his side has lacked a spine.
Gone are those days when United consistently put on a show at the Theatre of Dreams. Sir Alex Ferguson’s great sides would attempt anything to pick up a victory. Relentless attacking prowess used to wear down defences, now United are like second-hand goods - useful only in fits and spurts.
Scoring thirteen times in eleven Premier League games simply isn't good enough. Chance creation is Solskjaer's bane and it either takes a moment of individual brilliance or an opponents' error for the Red Devils to carve out openings - particularly when the team they're playing have something to defend and are able to put ten men behind the ball.
United have been linked recently with a whole repertoire of attacking midfielders. Jadon Sancho, James Maddison, Kai Havertz and Bruno Fernandes to name a few. Though, one man who Solskjaer could look to is Ajax’s magician, Hakim Ziyech.
It baffles many that the Moroccan is still plying his trade in Amsterdam. With Frenkie De Jong, Matthijs De Ligt and Kasper Dolberg all opting for pastures new, many thought Ziyech will eventually follow suit by the end of 2019's summer. But when you’re one of the clubs key influencers, I guess there's no rush.
While many predicted a transitional period, Ajax has seamlessly picked up where they left off; scoring 39 goals in their first twelve games, including ten goals from four games across the continent. Ziyech has been at the centre of it all. Against Chelsea in the 4-4 draw, once again the 26-year-old showed why certain clubs were mad not to pursue his services last summer with another attacking masterclass. The Moroccan has been on absolute fire, particularly in European competition.
So far this season, Ziyech has scored seven goals in all competitions. He didn’t add to that tally at Stamford Bridge, but he did leave a talented Chelsea defence in tatters with his technical skill, creativity and his unerring deliveries from wide areas. It was his cross that so expertly found Quincy Promes at the back post to nod in Ajax’s second goal.
Ziyech also had a hand in Ajax's third goal, completely bamboozling Kepa and scoring from a corner. Ten minutes later, the Moroccan then teed up Donny Van De Beek to further break Chelsea hearts.
It was a true representation of the ability and influence he holds in the whole squad. Ajax are never worried about lacking in ideas or injection in the final third. They simply have it in abundance with Ziyech, Van De Beek and Dusan Tadic around. It’s the reason why Ajax have been amongst the most exciting teams to watch over the past year, and how Solskjaer would love a player of Ziyech’s ilk right now.
The stats from the totality of last season coupled with the start of this tell its own story. 21 goals and 24 assists from his breakout year, showed why he was the subject of much interest from Europe’s top clubs last summer. What’s so unique about Ziyech, is that he could play anywhere across the midfield and attacking positions. Left-wing, right-wing or as an attacking midfielder, you name it.
The Moroccan certainly has what it takes to bring back the excitement to Old Trafford. There's an obvious creative void right now. Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira just aren't good enough, while Paul Pogba being sidelined obviously doesn't help matters. United have regularly flattered to deceive, often looking laboured in possession while failing to break down teams who defend in numbers. Solskjaer needs that X-factor and Ziyech could be that star man.
The former FC Twente midfielder can create something out of nothing. When faced with a team that sits deep, the Moroccan simply takes a swing of his left foot and you’d bet your house it'll cause a problem for any opponent. His goal against Valencia in the Champions League this season was breathtaking and it sums up Ziyech's game perfectly. After picking up the ball on the right-hand side, the attacker cut in and unleashed an absolute scorcher from all of about 30-yards with his sumptuous left-boot.
When you factor in his delivery from both open play and set-pieces, he seems more like the perfect fit for Old Trafford. Their quality from the wing and from free-kicks simply isn't good enough. Ziyech would immediately become the best crosser of the ball at the club and that's something Solskjaer is in dire need of right now.
Ziyech has shown he deserves a bigger spotlight and platform to perform in, and there is no better place than the Premier League. Manchester United are in desperate of need some injection and enthusiasm in their attacking play and the addition of Hakim Ziyech could certainly address those issues...