Hakim Ziyech and Reece James have wasted little time striking up an understanding on Chelsea’s right side… Frank Lampard spotted the potential and opposition defenders are already baffled!
- Chelsea have hit their stride in recent weeks with the goals and wins flowing
- Frank Lampard identified a way to get the best out of £36m arrival Hakim Ziyech
- Combining the Moroccan with Reece James on right side was a masterstroke
- They combined well in recent wins over Burnley, Rennes and Sheffield United
- Defenders find it problematic to keep track of what both players intend to do
- James can overlap and use his crossing ability, or Ziyech cuts back for a pass
It may have been the shortest pre-season on record but it’s clear Frank Lampard thought long and hard about how his Chelsea side could take the next step.
One priority was to establish a strong spine to his team reminiscent of the successful Jose Mourinho teams Lampard played in.
That has been accomplished through four new signings out of the five with Edouard Mendy in goal, Thiago Silva at centre-half, N’Golo Kante in midfield, Kai Havertz ahead of him and Timo Werner up front.
Reece James and Hakim Ziyech celebrate after the Moroccan scored for Chelsea at Burnley
James (left) and summer signing Ziyech (right) are developing an effective understanding
Frank Lampard recognised the potential for the partnership on the right side of his team
But what has become apparent in Chelsea’s last three games is that Lampard also figured out how to get the best out of another summer arrival, Hakim Ziyech.
Admittedly, Chelsea’s manager had a little longer to make his calculations on this one. Ziyech’s £36million transfer from Ajax was sealed in February, then he suffered a knee injury that kept him sidelined for the first month of the season.
But now, Ziyech is absolutely flying and Lampard’s best laid plan for the Morocco international to work in tandem with right-back Reece James has proved a masterstroke.
Watching 20-year-old James play during his breakthrough season, you imagine a lightbulb moment for Lampard when he realised the youngster and Ziyech could complement one another perfectly.
‘That was part of my thinking when Hakim Ziyech came to the club, the balance of the sides of the pitch which is very important for us,’ Lampard said ahead of Saturday’s 4-1 win over Sheffield United.
‘We knew Reece’s quality last year in terms of crossing. And when you think you can have a winger in front of him that can offer different angles and combinations on that side to put ball into the box, then I think it can be a big strength of ours.’
Ziyech carries the ball forward during Chelsea’s Champions League win over Rennes last week
James, seen against Sheffield United on Saturday, is adept at pushing forward to attack
Patience has proved a virtue. Ziyech’s injury meant he didn’t appear on the same pitch as James until the 3-3 draw with Southampton on October 17 – and even then for just three minutes off the bench.
There was another small cameo in Chelsea’s Champions League opener with Sevilla but since the pair have been starting together in the games against Burnley, Rennes and Sheffield United, things have quickly sparked.
It was a quickly-established understanding noticed by former Chelsea defender Ashley Cole in the Sky Sports studio at the weekend.
‘I think the relationship Ziyech and Reece James had today – I think they’re really starting to forge a good partnership,’ Cole said.
‘He can pop inside and come inside and give Reece James space to attack. It’s difficult to mark when you come in those little pockets and areas.’
Lampard spotted the potential of James to wreak havoc from his right-back position
HAKIM ZIYECH’S STATS SO FAR THIS SEASON
REECE JAMES’ STATS SO FAR THIS SEASON
That’s the whole premise of playing them together on Chelsea’s right side, an element of unpredictability that can fox defenders and get ball into attacking areas.
There were promising signs in the 3-0 win at Burnley – the first in which Ziyech and James started together – with the Moroccan scoring once and creating another for Werner.
In the Champions League game against Rennes last week, Chelsea’s third goal, scored by Tammy Abraham originated from an overload down the right side.
Rennes are already down to 10 men and stretched, but Ziyech carries the ball forward and knows that James will come outside him on the overlap.
The defender is in two minds which player to track and it’s an easy pass to find James in ample to cross. His delivery is perfect for Abraham to score from six yards.
Ziyech is on the ball on the right-hand side as James races forward from right-back to create a two-on-one situation against the already stretch Rennes defence
Ziyech on this occasion slips James into space and his cross is inch-perfect for Abraham
There were even more signs of a growing understanding between the pair in the 4-1 win over the Blades, a game that saw Ziyech claim two more assists.
Chelsea’s first goal was a good example. James was already 15 yards inside the opposition half, turning to receive a pass from Kurt Zouma before showing the awareness to pop it out to the right touchline where Ziyech is positioned.
With the defenders expecting James to turn and pass inside, rather than pass outside, Ziyech is left with ample time to lift a lovely ball over the top and find Mateo Kovacic. He duly cuts the ball back for Abraham to score.
James is 15 yards inside the Sheffield United half as he receives a pass from Kurt Zouma
Ziyech has drifted into a pocket of space on the touchline and James locates him there
The Blades defenders aren’t sure who to pick up, allowing Ziyech to loft a ball into Kovacic
Kovacic gets clear of the defenders, cuts back and tees up Abraham to score Chelsea’s first
In the second-half, James has the ball on the right and ahead of him Ziyech checks a forward run to turn back and face him.
James passes in side to Jorginho but Ziyech and Kante quickly get involved, causing a panic among the Blades players. In the end, Kante pokes the ball through for Werner to score.
So the combination of James and Ziyech offers Chelsea so many options. James could overlap and use his crossing ability, serve as a decoy while Ziyech cuts inside to pass or shoot.
Or James can wait until Ziyech cuts back, drawing defenders towards him before bringing another midfielder into the play.
Later in the Sheffield United game, James is carrying the ball forward on the right flank
Instead of pushing on, Ziyech checks his run and turns back, drawing the defenders out
Ziyech, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante fight and win the ball from two Sheffield United players
Kante manages to get the ball through and Timo Werner is alert to run through and score
This understanding will only develop further and has the potential to become one of the best in the Premier League.
Liverpool show this with Trent Alexander-Arnold overlapping and combining with Mohamed Salah on their right side. When you have a right-back with such excellent crossing ability, it makes sense to use the tactic.
The crossing of James certainly compared well to that of Alexander-Arnold last season even if he trailed on the assists front by some way (13 to 2).
But already there looks to be much more creativity about Chelsea this season and the goals are flowing.
With a solid spine and good right-hand side, Lampard’s team look in rude health.
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