Profiling: Hakim Ziyech

This article was originally posted at Tussen de Linies by @Wes Beuvink and @ and has been translated into English by

The old-fashioned ‘number 10’ ánd playmaker, around which the rest of the team is built, is barely seen any more in contemporary football. In the Dutch city of Enschede however, there is still one of these rare specimens walking around on the football pitch: Hakim Ziyech. Now that the season is over, he will be looking for a new employer. And he will have a wide selection of clubs to pick from, because Ziyech has had a good season. A very good season.

After a fantastic year at sc Heerenveen, where he scored nine times and gave as many assists, Hakim Ziyech made the move to Enschede in the summer of 2014. FC Twente splashed out €3.5 million euro on the midfielder. The club was locked in a transfer battle for Ziyech with Feyenoord, but managed to beat the club from Rotterdam by offering the Moroccan more career security. Alfred Schreuder, FC Twente’s manager at the time, had reserved Ziyech’s favorite spot on the field just for him: the ‘number 10’ position.

In his first season in Enschede, Ziyech made himself known by being directly involved in 27 of Twente’s goals. After playing 31 league matches, he had scored eleven goals and given sixteen assists. Football, however, is a team sport and the rest of the team performed below expectations. Though Twente managed to reach the semi-final of the Dutch Cup, they got knocked out in the play-off round of the Europa League against Qarabag FK and disappointingly finished tenth in the Eredivisie. The season soured even further due to the financial struggles of the club, which resulted in a two point deduction in the league. The pressure on Alfred Schreuder grew and in August 2015 the manager, who was such a fan of Ziyech, was fired. That decision did not fall well with the newly appointed captain and seriously damaged the relationship between the club and the player. The mood between the Twente supporters and Ziyech also stayed troublesome and after the player made some critical comments in the media, the club stripped him from his captaincy. After the departure of Schreuder, his goal for the 2015/2016 season was clear: to move up as soon as possible.

The season 2015/2016

Ziyech knew that if he performed well on the field, it would be a matter of time before that possibility would arrive. The playmaker was the heart of Twente’s attacking play. In 33 league games, he scored seventeen goals, while creating twelve. With those stats, the midfielder has been directly involved in 59% of FC Twente’s goals. Individually, this has been Ziyech’s best offensive season. Never did he shoot, score and assist his teammates as much per 90 minutes as he did this season.

Not only within his team, but also compared to the rest of the Eredivisie, Ziyech’s numbers are impressive. The midfielder has the second most attempts on goal per 90 minutes (4.9) in the league. However, thirteen players (minimum of 15 appearances) have scored more goals per 90 minutes then Twente’s number 10. This has to do with the quality of his shot locations. Almost two-third of Ziyech’s shots are made from outside the 18-yard box. That Ziyech was able to score the amount of goals he has – one goal per two full matches – is mostly due to the high amount of attempts on goal.

In the area of passing, the Dutch-born Moroccan is nearly inimitable. Only two players gave more assists and none gave more keypasses than Hakim Ziyech. In total he created 2.9 chances per 90 minutes. Overall, however, Ziyech passes less than other midfielders in the league. When Ziyech has the ball, he is able to create danger quite rapidly. In late October of last year, the very respected football analyst 11tegen11 tweeted the image below, which confirms this premise. The picture shows us that most of Ziyech’s touches are near the so called halfspaces. The halfspaces are the areas on the field, around the opponent’s penalty area, between the middle of the field and the flanks. In the middle area in front of the goal situations are often too crowded and therefore difficult to play through, while at the flanks a player is not only further from the goal, but his passing options are limited due to the sideline. Within the halfspaces, a player has a better view and can easier become an attacking threat. Looking at the location his touches, Ziyech seems to be aware of this.Capture

Still, people expect more of a midfielder than just attacking. And if we cut to the chase, defensively Ziyech does very little. In physical duels the attacking midfielder regularly falters. Even though he repeatedly beats his opponent (only five players have more successful dribbles), he also often loses the ball in a duel. Of all central and attacking midfielders, no one is more dispossessed per 90 minutes than Ziyech (3.2). He also most often loses the ball after a bad first touch. There are several possible causes for this loss of possession.

Ziyech is thé playmaker in his team and the opponents know this. They will mark the number 10 more strongly and will constantly be on top of him when he gets the ball. Ziyech is quite slender, which can mean that he falls short physically, which results in him being pushed aside more easily. Another reason can be a bit of carelessness by Ziyech. The attacking midfielder is not known for his defensive work ethos and even though he can get away with that in the Eredivisie, this might not be the case in another league where teams play on a higher level.

Since his arrival at FC Twente two years ago, Ziyech has been directly involved in 52 league goals, or 54% of Twente’s entire production, over the last two seasons. Based on his attacking play, Ziyech has outgrown the Eredivisie. The midfielder has already confirmed that a summer transfer is a certainty. Considering his performances and Twente’s financial struggles, the number 10 is an interesting option for a lot of clubs. So the question remains: where will Hakim Ziyech showcase his abilities next season?

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