akim Ziyech is a Fantasy Football manager’s dream; a defender’s worst nightmare.
His through-ball to Mateo Kovacic led to Tammy Abraham’s equaliser after the visitors had taken a shock early lead. Two further pieces of magic could have produced goals for Timo Werner.
It is impossible to see forwards wreak such havoc at Stamford Bridge without casting the mind back to Eden Hazard.
That is the type of comparison that would cause some players to wilt. Not Ziyech, whose self-confidence was one of the traits that convinced Lampard he would be a perfect fit in a Chelsea side that so badly missed their former talisman last season.
Perhaps the Moroccan has benefited by coming in a year after Hazard’s departure as a result of last season’s transfer ban. But he just doesn’t look like the type to be daunted by anything placed in front of him – or any sense of expectation.
Having seen the start to his Chelsea career delayed by injury, he is making up for lost time. And when Lampard finally gets to play his full strength attack – with Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz providing threats from different areas – it could make a devastating forward line.
For now, Ziyech is doing well enough pulling the strings all by himself. He has quickly established himself as Chelsea’s most creative force, both out wide or through the middle.
His quick-thinking and range of passing means he’s a danger to the opposition from just about any area he collects the ball.
That was evident with his clipped ball over the top to meet Kovacic’s run in the build-up to Abraham’s goal.
While it was a fantastic run from Kovacic, it would have been worth nothing if not for the speed of thought and execution from Ziyech.
Similarly his defence-splitting pass in the second half to set Werner away one-on-one. Sheffield United’s defenders had enough trouble just trying to stem his crossing from the wings, let alone contending with him when he cut inside.
Add to that his dead-ball delivery and he’s the complete creative package.
Fantasy Football managers are sure to be queuing up for this points-scoring machine, while Chelsea are also going to rely heavily on his points-winning qualities in real life.
His recovery from a knee injury has coincided with the growing confidence of Lampard’s side.
That has been evident with the assuredness of three straight wins going into this match, which saw them score 10 goals and concede none.
Lampard spoke beforehand of the 3-0 defeat suffered at Bramall Lane in July, which underlined the changes that need to be made to turn his team into serious title contenders.
The addition of six major signings – including Ziyech – has had the desired effect so far, with significant improvements in every department.
His starting line-up suggested he has a strong idea of his best XI and most effective system.
In the absence of that duo Abraham led the line for the third straight game and Kovacic was part of a midfield three.
Chelsea were aiming to extend a run of 10 games undefeated in all competitions – but that record was put under threat when Sheffield United took a surprise lead in the ninth minute.
A defence that has forgotten how to concede goals was given a wake-up call by David McGoldrick.
They were slow to react to a well-worked short corner between Oliver Norwood and George Baldock.
Sander Berge then redirected a low cross goal-wards, which McGoldrick flicked past Edouard Mendy.
It was a shock, but Chelsea delivered the perfect response on 23 minutes.
Ziyech’s ball to Kovacic opened up the visitors’ defence.
Kovacic then pulled the ball back into the path of Abraham, whose bobbling shot was on target and had enough on it to beat Aaron Ramsdale.
Werner came close to putting Chelsea in front when firing against the bar after Ziyech’s free kick, but Lampard didn’t have to wait long for the second goal.
Once again it was Ziyech at the heart of it – his in-swinging cross in the 34th minute being turned in at the far post by Chilwell – even if the full-back appeared more concerned about avoiding collision with the woodwork than making contact with the ball.
Chilwell thought he’d scored a second before half-time, but was denied by the outstretched arm of Ramsdale.
Kovacic and Abraham both had chances to extend the lead after the break and a third eventually came through Thiago Silva.
The Brazilian’s 77th-minute glancing header came via yet another Ziyech cross, whipped into the six-yard box.
Within seconds the Moroccan then provided a left-footed through ball to Werner, which left the striker one-on-one. The only surprise was to see his lobbed effort bounce the wrong side of the post with Ramsdale beaten.
But Werner quickly made amends, rifling past the Sheffield United goalkeeper with 10 minutes left on the clock.
It pushed Chelsea up to third in the table. Just imagine where they’d be if they’d had Ziyech available from the start of the season.
Kovacic poses Lampard a dilemma
In only his first start in the Premier League since September, Kovacic sent a timely reminder of his qualities.
His forward running stretched Sheffield United’s defence – and led to Abraham’s equaliser.
Lampard is spoilt for choice in midfield – and it’s clear Kovacic is not considered part of his strongest XI. But it is impossible to ignore his quality and this was a performance to convince his manager he deserves more game time.
Unfortunately a twisted ankle cut his evening short.
Big Phil’s record stands
Lampard became the first Chelsea manager since Carlo Ancelotti in 2010 to oversee five straight clean sheets.
He was looking to become the first since Big Phil Scolari in 2008 to make it six on the bounce against Sheffield United.
McGoldrick’s opener ended any hopes of that – but maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.
The Brazilian World Cup winner was out of work four months later when shown the door before completing a full season in charge at Stamford Bridge.
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