Hakim Ziyech provides Thomas Tuchel with easy Chelsea decision amid Christian Pulisic contest

Hakim Ziyech has reaffirmed his decision to step away from the Moroccan national team to maintain a key advantage over his rivals on the Chelsea wing. The former Ajax star has not met up with his national side at all this season after falling out with manager Vahid Halihodzic. He has not being selected by the head coach since June.

Halilhodzic said September: “His behaviour in the last two matches, especially the last one, was not that of a national team player who as a leader in the team has to be a positive role model. For the first time in my coaching career, I have seen behaviour that disappoints me. A player who refuses to play a game, admittedly a friendly, on the pretext that he is injured.

“The medical staff made several examinations and said he could play. He then refused to warm up in the second half because he was disappointed to be a substitute. For me, that type of behaviour is unacceptable. I won’t tolerate it. Not this behaviour as long as I coach Morocco.”

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Following that outburst Ziyech wanted the Bosnian to “speak the truth” and having missed the Africa Cup of Nations during January, he announced his international retirement in February. However, Fouzi Lekjaa, president of the Moroccan football association, stated that Ziyech would be called up for the World Cup qualifiers later this month. That sparked the Chelsea star to quash the ‘misinformation’.

He said: “I love my country and playing for the Moroccan national football team has been the honour of my lifetime, so it is with great sadness that I must announce that although the FRMF President today confirmed that I will be pre-selected for the team, I won’t be returning to play for Morocco.

“I’m sorry to disappoint the fans, this was not an easy decision to make, but sadly I feel I have no other choice. Despite giving my all to the team over the past 6 years and supporting them my entire life, the leadership continue to release misinformation about me and my commitment to my country. Their actions have made it impossible for me to continue to be part of the team.

“I learned the news about the pre-selection at the same time as everyone else, so I’m releasing this statement to ensure that you hear the truth directly from me. Thank you to everyone who has supported me, I wish the team nothing but the best for the future. My focus as a player is at my club Chelsea FC.”

The final line will come as a boost to Chelsea supporters and cement Ziyech’s advantage over some of his rivals in the team. The Moroccan is one of few members of the squad afforded the opportunity to train with Thomas Tuchel over an international break – a time that has often seen those who have featured at Cobham provided an opportunity to impress in the game immediately after.

Ziyech has already benefited this term, with his AFCON absence coinciding with some of the best form the 28-year-old has displayed capped off with a stunning goal against Tottenham. The winger was able to recapture the form he displayed in pre-season before the troublesome injury he suffered in the UEFA Super Cup.

Through the early parts of the season Ziyech was linked with moves to Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, and due his age, he might have been considered a favourite to leave Chelsea, given the sheer amount of talent the Blues have. The playmaker is in direct competition with the likes of Kai Havertz. Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

However, Ziyech has shown himself to be a difference-maker to the side with his creativity throughout 2022 finding goals against Brighton, Spurs and Crystal Palace.

Pulisic, on the other hand, has seen his season stutter in part because of his international contributions. The US star has shown his ability against teams with a high line in Liverpool and Lille in 2022 but saw September and October pitch time disappear after returning from international duty injured.

After joining up with the USA in November and January, which can’t be begrudged, he has started on Tuchel’s bench. The distances he travels are sure to play a factor in his recovery. While the international breaks can cause momentum issues, he may be impacted more than other Blues stars.

With the talent in Chelsea’s squad, Ziyech will be pleased to have any advantage he can to earn a place in the starting lineup.

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