Man Utd star Donny van de Beek has already shown Chelsea fans what to expect from Hakim Ziyech
If you were to look at Ajax’s most recent starting line-up, you would see just five of the players who featured prominently during their run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.
Predictably, after Erik ten Hag’s side captured the imagination with their heroic attempt to emulate Ajax’s famous European Cup-winning side of 1995, they experienced a mass exodus of top talent.
Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt secured lucrative moves to Barcelona and Juventus respectively, while this summer it was time for Premier League clubs to raid the Amsterdam side.
Hakim Ziyech joined Chelsea before Donny van de Beek made the move to Manchester United, further breaking up Ajax’s class of 2019 while adding two exciting talents to the English top flight.
So far, only Van de Beek has featured for his new side, although his progress at Old Trafford has been slow with the 23-year-old yet to start a league game for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
He did, however, open his goalscoring account at the first time of asking, coming off the bench to bag a consolation goal in United’s 3-1 home defeat by Crystal Palace.
Chelsea fans, meanwhile, have been made to wait before seeing Ziyech in action, and given that the Blues reached an agreement with Ajax back in February, the Moroccan’s debut has been a long time coming.
As two high-profile departures from Ajax, it would seem easy to compare Van de Beek and Ziyech. The truth, however, is that they are entirely different players.
Whereas Van de Beek became renowned at Ajax for his ability to create chances from a central role and time runs into the box, Ziyech was hugely influential as a roaming winger, often creating chances from the flank or after having drifted infield to find space.
Ziyech, for example, is a much more proficient ball-carrier, averaging 8.1 dribbles per 90 in all competitions for Ajax last season according to Wyscout, compared to Van de Beek’s 1.83.
Last season, Ziyech continued his impressive output from the 2018/19 campaign, managing nine goals and 18 assists. Van de Beek managed more goals with 10 but only eight assists.
In fact, Ziyech outperformed Van de Beek in most attacking metrics. Last season, he had 3.57 shot assists to Van de Beek’s 1.72 while he managed far more through passes with 4.7 compared to 0.7.
That is not to say that Van de Beek is incapable of producing a defence-splitting pass. No, the difference in their stats stems from performing different roles for Ajax.
While Ziyech often popped up in half-spaces on the right, Van de Beek was often expected to run beyond defenders latch onto one of Ziyech’s passes.
Indeed, Van de Beek’s goal in Ajax’s 6-1 win over ADO Den Haag in December effectively illustrates their contrasting roles.
As you can see below, Ziyech pops up in space on the wing. When he first touches the ball, Van de Beek is in a reasonably deep position.
However, aware of Ziyech’s crossing ability, Van de Beek runs beyond three defenders and into space at the far post, finishing calmly with a first-time finish.
A similar scenario played out when Chelsea met Ajax in last season’s Champions League when Frank Lampard’s men recovered from going three goals down to eventually draw 4-4 in a scintillating eight-goal thriller at Stamford Bridge.
In that game, in which Ziyech effectively passed his Chelsea audition with two assists, the Moroccan again linked up effectively with Van de Beek, finding the midfielder in space in the box for Ajax’s fourth goal.
At such an early stage, it is impossible to tell how Van de Beek and Ziyech will fare in their respective Premier League careers.
While Van de Beek is yet to be given a run in Solskjaer’s XI at Old Trafford, the feeling is that the Dutchman can become a key attacking influence for the Red Devils once he is fully integrated.
Ziyech’s potential trajectory at Chelsea is equally as exciting. With the 27-year-old expected to make his debut following the international break, he will be parachuted into a souped-up attacking line-up that includes Timo Werner and Kai Havertz and is still to welcome back Christian Pulisic.
And considering Willian’s departure from Chelsea, Ziyech seems like the right choice for Chelsea as someone who can consistently influence the play from wide areas using a combination of pace, trickery and an enviable passing range.
Of course, it won’t be long before Ziyech and Van de Beek are reunited with Chelsea set to visit Old Trafford on October 24. Perhaps that will be the game to launch their English football careers in earnest.