Can Hakim Ziyech lead Chelsea to the Premier League title?
Hakim Ziyech  in action during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge on November 07, 2020 in London, United Kingdom [Getty Images, Mike Hewitt]

A third match of the match performance for summer-signing Hakim Ziyech has seen the Blues race up the Premier League table on his belated introduction, with only three points separating Frank Lampard’s men and Leicester City who occupy first after eight games.

With next weeks international break offering time for both reflection and prediction, can we really consider Chelsea title contenders, if the Morrocan maestro continues his fine form, when league action resumes? 

Doubts? What doubts?

When Chelsea travelled to the south coast to open their 2020/21 campaign against Brighton, a deflated feeling lingered after the final whistle.

Despite the 3-1 win, and a 20-yard worldie from Reece James, it was passively accepted that the scoreline somewhat deceived the performance down on the seaside.

A lack of harmony, coupled with players playing out position, left fans and pundits alike to question the £200m+ recruitment plan the Blues pursued in the summer window. 

The bland fixtures that followed, a home defeat to Liverpool and two 3-3 draws against West Bromwich Albion and Southampton respectively, all but confirmed that Lampard didn't quite know his 'best' starting eleven; shoehorning his headline acquisitions, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, alongside last season mainstays, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi, into the final third- hoping all would fall into place. 

But with the recent, though late, addition of Hakim Ziyech, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury, all concerns have seemed to be forgotten. 

Four standout performances in a row from the former Ajax man has seen Chelsea shoot up the table as well as confirming themselves as  strong favourites to top their Champions League group over last seasons Europa League winners  Sevilla.

With the hard work at Cobham beginning to show on the pitch, the new recruits bedding in nicely after little to no preseason and the English top-flight looking more open than ever, can Ziyech really lead Chelsea to their sixth Premier League title? 

Saturdays performance

Albeit against the team who are propping up the table right now, the 4-1 downing of Sheffield United really cemented Chelsea's place in the title conversation going into the international break- all thanks to another Ziyech masterclass.

His world-class performance saw him make more key passes (six; which is more than any other player in the Premier League this term), shot-creating actions (nine), big chances (three) and accurate crosses (three, with two assisting Ben Chilwell's back post tap in and Thiago Silva's flicked header) than ALL the Sheffield players put together. 

The rightfully nicknamed ‘Wizard’, with his left foot being his trusty ‘wand’, was on a level above everyone else on the Stamford Bridge turf; his eye for a pass and the calibre of execution is making the £30m fee that Chelsea paid for him seem like the snip of the century, let alone the season. 

To put his transfer into more perspective, the money that cost Marina Granovskaia and Co. to bring the Morrocan to the English capital is as much as it would cost to fund Willian and Mesut Ozil wages for a full season. What a bargain.

For a player who has more big chances created (four) and the same number of assists (three) as Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in the league this season despite making just 2 starts, while being involved in five goals in his last four appearances, demonstrates how well Hakim has taken to London life.

And head coach Lampard is more than impressed with how he has adapted, given the 2019-20 Eredivisie season was abandoned back in April.

"We played against [Ziyech] in the Champions League last year - he's a top-class player,"

"He impresses you even more when you work with him.

"The Dutch league finished a long time ago, then he had an injury so to hit the ground running like he has, he has been remarkable.

"He will be a big player for us. I need players who can come in and lift the level. That's hard. The midfield were great with their driving runs."

"He has given us an extra edge and a different threat. He’s been out for a long time so it’s been really impressive how quickly he’s hit the ground running. He gives us a different style in terms of the left foot off the right side. It’s something we haven’t had much of in recent years.

"The ability to find the last pass or the last cross or assist to break teams down that have a low blow – we saw that today. His personality rubs off. I keep talking about personality. I think it’s a huge thing in football. The signings we’ve brought in have brought a lot on and off the pitch.

"The confidence he exudes and how much he wants to receive the ball and be the important player that makes the assist has been a big plus." 

Former Blue Ashley Cole, who now works as a coach in the Chelsea Academy, has also been singing Ziyech’s praise, adding:

‘We saw the quality of him last year in the Champions League and the impact he had at Ajax, and he has gone under the radar a bit due to the injury,’

‘But he has come back now and he looks fit, he looks like he is enjoying the way Frank plays, and enjoying playing with his team-mates here. He is using that wand of a left foot to perfection at times and he pulled the strings [against Sheffield United]. So I think he is a big player for Chelsea.’

In-form Blues

Since Ziyech's debut away in Krasnodar, with the midfielder's 79th-minute strike adding a fourth of the evening to put the game beyond doubt, the Blues have claimed three wins on the bounce, kept three clean sheets and scored ten in the process.

Up until Saturday's win over the Blades, the SW6 club hadn't conceded in 375 minutes. 

Some achievement if you considered how Chelsea began and ended last season, and started this one. 

Although going 11 matches without defeat, their longest unbeaten run since November 2018 (a run of 18), Lampard is well aware of the Blues getting too ahead of themselves, now others are putting them in the title picture:

"We are third. Now we are seeing some of the work. Some of the work today was really encouraging for me to see those signs. I am the first to keep my feet on the ground," Lampard told Sky Sports after downing the Blades at Stamford Bridge. 

"Every game is challenging. The players are the ones who deliver and deserve that first credit. They were amazing, all of them today. The balance of the team was good and it's nice to see. We must continue. I really enjoyed watching it but I know how football is."

The aforementioned 'others' include Ian Wright, who won the Premier League title with Arsenal in 1998, with the former England striker now believing Chelsea are capable of mounting a credible title challenge this season.

When asked if Franks men can go all the way, Wright responded:

"Yes, with what they’ve got.

But like we said there’s a little bit of fitting the pieces together and I think the goalkeeper [Edouard Mendy], Silva, Ziyech coming in,  Havertz coming in, Werner coming in, I think those players and the quality and the standard of those players yes they should be [title challengers]."

"But then now it’s about fitting the pieces together."

"So once that’s all knitted together and they start to string a couple of wins together which they seem like they’re doing now, more clean sheets I’m sure will come because they’ll be very disappointed with that goal [against Sheffield United] because it was a poor goal to concede.

But they’ve got everything in the armoury to actually challenge, without a doubt."

Are people getting too carried away?

Yes and no. 

On one hand, you can view the weekends win over Sheffield United as meaningless against the team ranked 20th and assume they just rolled over, but this could not be further away from the truth.

Wilder's men have been on an upward trajectory after promising performances against Liverpool and City, and the Blues triumph was the first time Sheffield have conceded four goals or more in a game since November 2017.

The return on investment is being proven through the current league position, with an extra four points being earned from the same fixtures compared to last season

All-in-all, it was a  well earned, well-desevered fourth successive win for a team in blistering form.

However, this does not mean Chelsea are on the same level as Pep Guardiola's or Jurgen Klopp's title-winning teams of the past three seasons. 

So everyone should approach talks about Lampard getting his hands on the Premier League as a manager in only his second term in charge with caution, especially so early on in the season.

The team is still young and lacks serious depth in midfield and defence that still needs addressing. While a title push would be welcomed by supporters, it should by no means be the expectation. This team is still a work in progress. 

If Lampard lands on the right system, which seems to be the 4-3-3, then they can win the title. But if he doesn't, then they could fall down the league dramatically.