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Ziyech takes positive step forward in adapting to Tuchelball ‘structure’

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Settling in

Chelsea FC v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg Two Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Chelsea’s first goal against Atlético Madrid saw three of our big-money new signings combine for a picture-perfect team, counter-attack goal.

Timo Werner got the sequence started by showing his usual work-rate, closing down and deflecting a cross from deep. He may not have as many goals as we envisioned he would, but he’s yet to stop working. Kai Havertz, now full recovered from his bout with COVID-19 and its after-effects, picked up the loose ball — after Here-There-Everywhere-Kanté’s clearing header — and sent Werner scampering down the left channel. Meanwhile, Hakim Ziyech was busting a lung down the center, catching up to the play and offering an option for Werner. Timo threaded the needle and Ziyech produced a good enough finish to beat Jan Oblak low and in-close (tough place for tall goalkeepers, right, Thibaut?).

But beyond just his goal, Ziyech put in one of his most complete performances in a Chelsea shirt, one involving not just the occasional jaw-dropping and/or ambitious pass from the right flank. Many were surprised that he got the nod from Tuchel, having largely failed to impress under either Lampard or Tuchel thus far this season, but he certainly repaid that faith well enough on Wedneday.

The head coach explained his thinking afterwards, as he was hoping to utilize Ziyech’s experience and technical qualities.

“He played for that reason, he did it with Ajax so we chose him for that, he has good experience in the round of 16, he knows how it feels to arrive in the knockout round and to go through the last eight.

“The first reason he deserves it, this was the second and the third, we missed Mason Mount, we wanted to replace the intensity and work-rate with Hakim. We faced a midfield of three with a lot of quality and we wanted three midfielders minimum against the ball to give reliable work-rate into this team, this is what he always does.”

No one’s likely to confuse Ziyech’s work-rate with Mason Mount’s, but the former Ajax man did a passable impression overall.

Chelsea FC v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg Two Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

And of course Ziyech offers something that no one else on the team offers as well as he does, at least in theory: that bit of spark and creativity that no head coach can teach.

“He suffers a little bit with our style, he needs to adapt to the structure and be more reliable with the ball and he needs to find a better rhythm when to taking risks and not to take risks but I am super happy, this is reliable from him

“He is a hard-working guy upfront and I am happy that he could finish the transition with Kai and Timo, the three were all involved and it was a nice and decisive goal.”

-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London

Tuchel has talked before about providing the “structure” for his team and letting the creative types find their own solutions within that framework. It’s just one game, but if Ziyech’s starting to figure that out, he could yet become the Wizard of the Bridge, just as advertised.