The use of the German footballing terms to describe two of Chelsea’s marquee signings this season is well-placed. Both are yet to reproduce their form and talent since joining Chelsea. Both are young players, but so often the price tag does not tell the full story. “Techniker” is Kai Havertz: a technician, a player who is very talented with the ball. “Torschützenkönig” is Timo Werner: goal king, the leading scorer. Both need time to fulfil their German reputations and labels at Stamford Bridge.
The Premier League is the toughest of all leagues to hit the ground running as a foreign player. There are exceptions of course: Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Michu – remember him? Some of the players sustained their incredible starts, some fell away with time. More often than not, there is a period of adjustment to pace and physicality of the Premier League. I strongly suspect both of these German youngsters are no different, given the celebration of their talents back home.
For both Havertz, 21, and Werner, 24, their moves are unusual for young German starlets. The financial and historic lure of Bayern Munich is usually an exclusive, ultimate goal for German footballers and the club are no strangers to cherry picking from their rivals.
Kai Havertz: an intelligent and kind-hearted individual whose footballing talent is not all that is impressive about him. He has a love of animals and makes it his own duty to save animals who are endangered. It is therefore ironic that after such a short time in the Premier League, in an extraordinary season and recovering from COVID-19, that it should be his status as a world class talent that be endangered. However, this is only a feeling amongst the impatient and fickle amongst us.
The Premier League is unforgiving and players such as Havertz, who often appear leisurely and as if the game can pass them by, are chastised. However, Havertz proved in his first game at Brighton that whilst he struggled for rhythm on the ball, he was certainly determined enough to track back 80 yards, tackle hard and put in the work for his team.
His personal accolades at Leverkusen speak for themselves: the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 35 goals and having the most prolific league season by a teenager with 17 goals in 34 league appearances during the 2018-19 season. Interestingly, during that season he had a similar mould of player around him that he does at Chelsea, and often shared the burden of creativity with players such as Julien Brandt.
Under Heiko Herrlich, until December 2018, Havertz primarily played centrally behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Following Peter Bosz’s managerial appointment, a system of 3-4-2-1 was implemented with Havertz roaming on the right-hand side behind the striker – with the primary emphasis being to threaten the opposition 18-yard box on consistent basis. This may suggest that a change of formation may well be in order for Lampard to extract the best qualities from Havertz – indeed from his 87 shot attempts that season, 40% were shots on target and roughly 19% were goals.
Comparison to Lampard himself is not unfounded, similarly with former Leverkusen and Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack. Both were two of the best goalscoring midfielders to ever lace a pair of boots, let alone grace Stamford Bridge – and yet Havertz is a far more potent and prolific threat than they were at his tender age. He has displayed at Leverkusen a propensity to glide into the box precisely and score goals regularly, particular when occupying central areas when the ball is out wide. Lampard is unequivocal in his backing of Kai’s talent and his potential as a generational talent, but I suspect a key to nurturing his talent is the system that Lampard plays.
Standing at just over 6ft2, but with a slight frame, Havertz is clearly a player who utilises the speed of his mind over his appearance in a t-shirt. Perhaps the more intense pressure of the Premier League has scrambled his mind and it will take a period of reconfiguration. And given his undoubted talent, Chelsea fans should be willing to offer him such a period of adjustment – otherwise they could suffer a De Bruyne or Mo Salah size calamity. Havertz must not be another ‘one that got away’.
Timo Werner: a slightly more mature player than Kai Havertz and thus shoulders a greater burden of needing to perform now. After a promising start, Werner has not scored in his past 12 matches. With goals being his currency and the missing of several ‘sitters’ in the meantime, both fans of Chelsea and football alike are sceptical of Werner’s suitability, talent and goalscoring instincts.
The young German was brought in to provide an effective option to Chelsea’s attack by prowling in front of the last defender and darting behind. An attribute so effectively executed at RB Leipzig, Werner scored 35 goals in 2019-20, is the club’s record torschützenkönig with 95 and was the youngest player to reach 200 Bundesliga appearances. He is no stranger to hitting the back of the net, and despite playing at the top level since 17, Werner is a character occupied by self-doubt and self-criticism.
Having played at boyhood club for Stuttgart since the age of 6 and playing during a season where their 39 year stay in the Bundesliga came to an end, Werner was scapegoated aged just 20 having been selected ahead of more senior players. This effected Werner psychologically, ultimately leading to his departure for RB Leipzig who had just been promoted.
After a promising start in training, displaying the ruthless finishing and speed he was bought for, the inclusion of senior professionals such as Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg to training led to Werner doubting if he was good enough. A few weeks later, in a game away to Hamburg, Werner came off the bench at 0-0 and scored a brace in a 4-0 win. He never looked back. This inherent impostorism is a window into Werner’s psyche and potentially explains his visibly low confidence at Chelsea. In light of this, it’s crucial that even if the tribalistic nature of opposition football fans do write him off as a ‘fraud’, that Chelsea fans do not.
Strikers are selfish creatures. They would take your last rolo, eat it in front of you and dare to demand another. Werner appears to be more considerate and reproachful but will undoubtedly be wondering where his next goal is coming from. Strikers are also built on confidence. When a striker’s form and confidence depart them, you often see the rhythm of their runs, the technique of their strike and entire body’s balance misalign slightly. That is Werner right now – he needs to see the ball hit the back of the net, whether it be from a penalty or a bundle off the knee. Interestingly, Luis Suarez’s first season chance conversion statistics did not pull up any trees: 25% in 2011-12, then soaring to 53% in 2012-13 and 55% in 2013-14. Patience is a virtue.
Players without quality do not score 95 in 159 matches with 40 assists for a club who have just been promoted and begun challenging for the German top-flight. Now is the time to back Werner, not hang him out to dry. A striker’s propensity to smell chances is an innate ability that simply cannot be taught, and he does find himself in the right areas more often than not. It is merely a matter of confidence and technical finishing ability – which Lampard has reportedly been addressing with simple, repetitive training drills to boost Werner’s confidence.
Frank Lampard: what else can he do? For the past month or so, since the emphatically high-octane performance against Leeds, Chelsea have looked laboured and lacked tactical nous. Individual errors cannot be accounted for, but perhaps the answer lies in patience and training ground intervention. Especially after Sunday’s abject and error laden defeat to Manchester City.
A change of formation from Lampard may kill two birds with one stone: provide a more stable tactical framework for the team to perform and also maximise the output of his two marquee signings. Whilst 4-3-3 has provided success for Lampard, the defensive errors and isolation of the front three can make it look stale against teams that look to either press high or sit back deep.
Both Werner and Havertz are players who thrive in systems where the team is able to spring forward quickly and attack precisely. This will do two things for each player. For Havertz, it will provide more space in transition for him to deliver the ball and to eventually make the Lampard-esque runs into the box when the ball is out wide. For Werner, it will provide him with the goalscoring opportunities he is used to – more instinctive than delicate – and utilise his blistering pace. Formations that owe themselves are the 3-4-2-1 and 3-4-3 – both allowing Havertz to threaten the opposition goal on a more consistent basis, make the defence more assured in numbers and set Werner free.
The most crucial thing is game time and belief for them both. Trust the process, trust Lampard, trust their quality. And I believe that Techniker and Torschützenkönig will become their English equivalents: the technician and the goal king.
Written by Tony Harris – Twitter: @_TonyHarris
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