Few clubs endured as frustrating a January transfer window as Chelsea. The club from west London worked hard to lift a FIFA ban on registering new players. They were successful in the courtroom. But the mid-season market came and went without Frank Lampard adding to his squad.
The Blues boss was disappointed. Chelsea were linked with a host of players in a range of positions. They did not acquire any. Lampard responded by labeling his side “underdogs” in the race for the top four.
That may well be true. But optimism returned to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. Chelsea have agreed a £33.6 million fee with Ajax for the transfer of Hakim Ziyech this summer. The Morocco international will not be able to boost the club’s Champions League push in the coming months. But he will be a major asset next season, provided the deal goes through.
After 25 games, Chelsea are probably in a better position than most of their fans expected at the start of the campaign. The Blues only added one new senior player to their ranks last summer. Lampard arrived in the Stamford Bridge dugout with no top-flight managerial experience. And Eden Hazard, the club’s star player, joined Real Madrid.
All things considered, Chelsea are in an excellent position. They have a two-point lead over Sheffield United in fifth. And they have amassed four more points than sixth-placed Tottenham.
Chelsea’s principal problem in 2019/20 has been an inability to break down deep defenses. They have won only five of 12 home games. Lampard’s side lack invention and subtlety when they are denied space in behind opposition defenses. This is a problem they must rectify.
Signing Ziyech would be a step in the right direction. The deal is not done yet. Rival suitors may still enter the race. And Chelsea need to agree to personal terms with the player himself.
Wednesday’s news is promising, though. Chelsea did not replace Hazard last summer. With a transfer ban imposed on them, it was always going to be difficult. Christian Pulisic has shone in patches this season. But the jury is out on whether he can fill Hazard’s sizable shoes.
The Belgium international was immense last season. He carried Chelsea at times, scoring 16 goals and providing 15 assists.
Ziyech has a similar record at Ajax. So far this season he has eight goals and 16 assists across the Eredivisie and the Champions League. At 26, he is mature and experienced enough to take center stage at Stamford Bridge.
Whether or not they secure a top-four finish this term, Chelsea need to strengthen other areas of their squad in the summer. An alternative to Tammy Abraham is required upfront. Olivier Giroud looks set to depart, and Michy Batshuayi has not convinced his manager.
Chelsea need a new left-back and could perhaps do with another senior option at center-half. Most worryingly, Kepa Arrizabalaga has gone backwards in recent months. A new goalkeeper may feature on Lampard’s shopping list too.
Ziyech would represent a great start to their summer recruitment. The Ajax forward can play wide on the right or in a central role. He will bring creativity to the attacking third, and he is a proven goalscorer too. Chelsea will have pulled off a brilliant piece of business if they conclude this transfer.