Ziyech praises Lukaku as Chelsea best frontier after Club World Cup semi-final win

The winger, who has been in impressive form of late, believes only matter of time before club-record signing hits top form

Hakim Ziyech has launched a strong defence of Romelu Lukaku, insisting that it is only a matter of time before his Chelsea clubmate comes good while underlining the difficulty of leading the line against teams that often have three defenders surrounding him.

The Moroccan, who has been in impressive form since taking up a slot on the right wing in a 4-3-3 system, is close to Lukaku and looked bemused when it was put to him that there are doubts over the club record signing’s ability to make the expected impact.

Lukaku has eight goals in all competitions since returning to Stamford Bridge but has gone six without finding the net.

“Of course,” Ziyech said when asked if the 28-year-old’s quality will shine through. “He has shown it for years. There is no question of his quality. But I mean, he came here. In the beginning it was all good. He came back from injury, he caught Covid. Is there any question about his quality or whatever? He showed it for the last few years. It is just a matter of time.

“If you look at some teams we are playing against, they play in a back five. He is by himself against three defenders. Is that not hard? It doesn’t matter who you are, if you have three defenders of course it is hard to find your space or whatever it is.

“For example he makes an action against one, but the other one is coming as well. He also needs his space for his runs or whatever. It’s quite normal if every time you play against three defenders. It is really difficult at a time when we play football right now. It is hard.”

Since Chelsea, in part because of injuries to full backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell, moved to a 4-3-3 formation last month, Ziyech has thrived on the right of the front line. He has scored in the team’s two most recent league games, including a stunner against Tottenham Hotspur and was the standout player in the FA Cup win over Plymouth last weekend.

“It has given me more freedom in making my actions and doing what I have to do attacking-wise. I feel more free,” he said ahead of this evening’s Club World Cup semi-final with Al Hilal in Abu Dhabi.

Then asked if he had not felt free in the previous formation, the 28-year-old added: “It’s a different system. You have a different way of playing – responsibility and a different position of course. On the right wing you have more space and more freedom. I think I am the kind of player who can use that really well.”

Ziyech had earlier told TV reporters that he had retired from international football having not been selected for Morocco’s failed Africa Cup of Nations campaign following a falling out with the association.

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