Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech joins Premier League and African elite

Chelsea's Moroccan midfielder Hakim Ziyech plays during the UEFA Champions League match between Chelsea and Sevilla at Stamford Bridge in London on October 20, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 12 November 2020

Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech joins Premier League and African elite

  • The summer signing from Ajax has arguably become Chelsea’s most important player

DUBAI: Riyad Mahrez, Mohamed Salah, and now Hakim Ziyech.

It seems left-footed Arab forwards from North Africa are a must-have if you want to win the English Premier League. Chelsea and manager Frank Lampard are betting on it.

At 27, he is hardly an overnight success, but Ziyech’s transformation from an under-the-radar star into one of Europe’s biggest names has been worth the wait. Although try telling fans of Ajax — where he won the Dutch league title, KNVB Cup and played a pivotal role in the team’s memorable run to the Champions League semi-finals two seasons ago — that he is underrated.

Ziyech was also a key member of Morocco’s squad at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where they impressed without getting the results their play deserved. 

But today’s Ziyech — at least in the sometimes insular world of the English Premier League — is a different prospect to the one that returned from the last international break in October ahead of his Chelsea introduction.

The man who in Casablanca tomorrow will take to the field against Central African Republic in his nation’s colors, has, in less than a month, established himself as arguably Chelsea’s most important signing of the season.

It may have taken the Moroccan international until October 28 to make his first start for his new club, but since then he has scored two goals, set up several more and generally dominated in the four matches he started. Man of the match awards have become almost a forgone conclusion over the last few weeks as Ziyech has weaved his magic, albeit in front of empty stands in the Premier League.

The parallels with Algeria’s Mahrez — a Premier League winner with both Leicester City and Manchester City — and Liverpool’s Egyptian king Mohamed Salah, Champions League and PL winner, are unavoidable. And who would wager against Chelsea’s new star becoming the third Arab footballer from Africa becoming Footballer of the Year?

In style, substance and identity, there will in the coming months inevitably be comparisons — and no doubt one-upmanship — among supporters of the trio’s respective clubs and countries. 

For now, however, Lampard and the Chelsea fans will care little for that. They have found a ready-made superstar.

While all eyes were initially on Chelsea’s big-money signings from Germany — Timo Werner and Kai Havertz — and, to a lesser extent, defenders Thiago Silva and Ben Chillwell, Ziyech had to wait patiently for his Chelsea debut as he recovered from injury.

His first introductions to English football came with 20- and 10-minute cameos in Chelsea’s draws against Southampton (3-3) on October 17 and Manchester United (0-0) on October 24, but it was in the comfortable 4-0 Champions League win over the Russian club FC Krasnodar four days later that Ziyech took center stage.

He scored a fine goal with 10 minutes left and, throughout, Ziyech gave hints of things to come by constantly dropping deep to receive the ball on the right and spreading majestic crossfield passes to the left wing. Already, his signature move looks like it will become one of Chelsea’s main weapons.

As is the case with the likes of Mahrez, Salah and, perhaps most famously, Arjen Robben, defenders know exactly what’s coming but can’t necessarily deal with it. 

Since that game, Ziyech has flourished. He scored his first Premier League goal in a 3-0 win against Burnley at Turf Moor, with a trademark finish with his left foot after starting a move that also included Werner and Tammy Abraham. In another dominant display, he set up Werner for the third in the 70th minute.

Back in the Champions League, Ziyech again starred as Chelsea strolled to a comfortable 3-0 win over Stade Rennais.

Arguably his best performance came in Chelsea’s last outing, the impressive 4-1 win over Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge. Ziyech displayed his full range of skills, with his remarkable assist for Chillwell’s tap-in the highlight of the day.

It would be misleading to say that Ziyech’s presence is solely responsible for four consecutive wins by three-goal margins for the Blues when Thiago Silva and Ben Chillwell have returned from injuries and Werner and Havertz look to be settling into their new surroundings too. But neither is it far-fetched to suggest the team has looked far better and more balanced with him starting on the right side of a front three in Lampard’s favored 4-3-3 system. Having the exceptional Reece James supporting, and often overlapping, from his starting right-back position has no doubt provided Ziyech with the freedom to execute his favorite moves of dropping deeper and cutting onto his left foot, From there, he has wreaked havoc on Premier League defenses. 

Before that, Lampard had tried out several different formations, with Havertz in particular veering from excellent to peripheral as Chelsea struggled for consistency, cohesion and, thanks to the chopping and changing, a recognizable shape.

Now Ziyech’s brilliance has surely solved one of Lampard’s conundrums. The Moroccan will take some shifting from the starting lineup, and with Christian Pulisic or Mason Mount occupying a similar role on the left-hand side, Timo Werner preferred to Tammy Abraham up front, and Havertz potentially a focal number 10, Chelsea look a formidable collective going forward.

The next week will see Morocco in a double-header against the Central African Republic in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying Group E, where they currently sit in second place behind Mauritania, but with a game in hand. 

With a team that includes the likes of Achraf Hakimi, Nordin Amrabat, Youssef En-Nesyri, Yassine Bounou and, of course, Ziyech, Morocco will be expected to win their group and will ultimately be one of the favorites to win the competition.

For the Chelsea forward, next up in the Premier League will be Newcastle, Tottenham and Leeds. 

One by one, Chelseas’s opponents are being introduced to the Ziyech factor. What they can do about it is another matter.


Formula E to electrify Saudi streets with Diriyah night race

Updated 24 November 2020

Formula E to electrify Saudi streets with Diriyah night race

  • Formula E will light the track with low consumption LED technology powered by fully renewable energy
  • Formula E Chief Championship Officer Alberto Longo: I am confident the race will be spectacular and lead to a style of competitive action we haven’t seen before

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah track will host Formula E’s first all-electric night race as part of the 2020/21 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship calendar. Always focused on innovative, sustainable solutions, Formula E will light the track with low consumption LED technology powered by fully renewable energy.

Formula E confirmed that the all-electric ABB FIA Formula E World Championship will literally light up the streets of Diriyah as it returns to the historic desert surroundings of the UNESCO World Heritage site for the third year in a row.

Set for a spectacular double header in the dark, the first sport to have net zero carbon since inception will once again use its platform to share a positively charged call-to-action, reminding fans that even the most intense and unpredictable racing can take place without the environment paying the price.

Lighting the track with the latest low consumption LED technology will reduce energy consumption by up to fifty percent compared to non-LED technologies. The remaining energy needed to power the floodlighting will be fully renewable provided by high performing low-carbon certified hydrogenated vegetable oil made from sustainable materials.

With a founding purpose to counteract climate change, Formula E’s commitment to deliver better futures through racing drives its ongoing environmental, economic and social sustainability initiatives around the world.

Saudi Arabia is the perfect partner on this mission, as it embraces its own sustainability journey as part of Vision 2030. 

The Diriyah E-Prix will run at 17:00 GMT (20:00 local time) on February 26 and 27. It follows the debut of the 2020/21 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship in Santiago, Chile with two races on January 16 and 17.

Alberto Longo, co-founder and Chief Championship Officer of Formula E, said: “We are very proud to partner with Saudi to create Formula E’s first ever night race. I am confident the race will be spectacular and lead to a style of competitive action we haven’t seen before. As with everything we do, our first thought was about how to bring our sporting vision to life in a sustainable way. Before we innovate our racing product we must be confident we can maintain the standards of sustainable practice we hold ourselves accountable to.”

Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Minister of Sport added: “In 2018 the ancient historical city of Diriyah made history in hosting the first fully-electric race on the streets of the region. The debut event sparked so much joy and energy to our sporting journey and was one of a number of major sporting firsts that have since inspired our people and helped to shine a spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s massive transformation under the Kingdom’s vision 2030.  

“In 2019 Diryah was the first to host back to back races during a race weekend and now once again we will make sporting history. It is very fitting that a place so ancient will showcase the latest in sustainable technology as Diriyah lights up to shine bright for the world to see. We look forward to the dramatic racing and incredible scenes that are guaranteed to unfold under the lights.”

Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, said: “The inaugural Diriyah E-Prix was the Kingdom’s first major international event, last year it became the Middle East’s first double-header and in February, it will be the first ever night race for the all-electric ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, we’re really proud of this. Saudi Arabia is on a journey of embracing renewable energy 

and technology, and Formula E is more than just a race to be the best, it’s a partnership committed to the future of sustainable technology.”

Carlo Boutagy, CEO of CBX the official promoter, said: “With the circular economy being a key pillar of Vision 2030, we are thrilled to be quite literally shining a light on sustainability through hosting Formula E’s first ever night race. As a promoter, the fan experience is at the forefront of our event and we always aim to raise the bar year-on-year, and we have no doubt that the Diriyah E-Prix will be a spectacle unlike any other.”

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