Timo Werner’s pass for Kai Havertz to score his second of the afternoon in Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Fulham on Saturday took the former to double figures for both goals and assists this season.
The last person to do that for the Blues in their debut season was Eden Hazard. If this is Werner at low ebb, just imagine what he will be like when he hits form.
Moving to a new country is not easy during a pandemic. England has been in lockdown for the vast majority of Werner’s time at Chelsea, which is bound to affect his ability to adapt and feel at home, while the move from Frank Lampard to Thomas Tuchel created another hurdle for the Germany international to jump.
It is no wonder that his confidence is a little low, as evidenced not only by his struggles in front of goal – just one in his last 17 – but the way he is striking the ball. The awkward straight leg and the unexpected loss of balance show a player stuck is in his own head and in need of a rest.
That is what he will get this summer. A couple of months away from Stamford Bridge, coupled with a head-clearing Euro 2020 campaign and some elite tactical coaching from Tuchel, should see Werner at his best come August.
And Werner at his best is some player. He scored 28 Bundesliga goals in 34 games for RB Leizpig last season. He also amassed eight assists and was the third-most creative player in the team, with 1.6 key chances created per game.
His underlying numbers for Chelsea this season (11.2 expected goals (xG) and 4.58 expected assists (xA) in the Premier League) do not suggest he is close to that figure yet, but in his sharp movement, his speed, and his intelligent runs there is enough evidence for supporters to get on board – and give Werner the time he deserves.
Ever since Tuchel’s appointment, we have seen what makes Werner so special: impeccably timed and aggressive runs in behind the opposition defence.
The former Stuttgart man runs both channels, and whether in a front two, as a lone striker, or as one of Tuchel’s two inside forwards, his movement gives Chelsea their verticality.
At times under their new manager, Chelsea have looked a little sluggish in possession, but as the players gradually absorb his methods we are increasingly seeing midfielders pick out Werner’s runs, stretching the play and injecting a productivity in the final third.
Whether he directly receives the ball (beating defenders and bringing others into play) or simply makes room in the number 10 space by pulling defenders into uncomfortable wide areas, the 25-year-old is already one of the most important players in ensuring Tuchel’s system is creative.
Werner’s runs are particularly important when Chelsea play the top sides. Tuchel has implemented a counterattacking strategy – with plenty of early long balls over the top – in recent games against Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, and Real Madrid.
Again, Werner’s runs get Chelsea directly in behind, but also pull the opponents’ defensive line about, opening up pockets for Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, and Hakim Ziyech to get on the ball and wreak havoc.
It is telling that Werner ranks 11th in the Premier League this season for second and third assists combined, with four. He is a crucial part of Chelsea’s build-up play, even if this work often goes unnoticed when set against the headline news of another squandered chance.
But Werner has more to his game than those smart runs, as neatly evidenced by his most recent goal and assist.
His winner at West Ham in April was a tap-in from a move Werner started in traditional centre-forward style, shrugging off a defender with his back to goal and spreading the ball out wide.
His assist in the victory over Fulham was a brilliant pass threaded through a crowd of bodies from the edge of the penalty area: Werner is a head-up striker, capable of – and willing to – play in his fellow attackers if they are in a better position.
Against West Brom a few weeks ago, Werner had a shooting opportunity from a low ball played across the face of goal, but after taking a touch to steady himself noticed Ziyech was available for a simple pass. Perhaps a more confident Werner would have taken it on, but the selflessness here should not be overlooked.
It is a side of his game that a details man like Tuchel will hugely appreciate. The ex-Borussia Dortmund coach is a flexible tactician, although throughout his career he has focused on sudden tempo changes, quick vertical football, and maximising counterattacking or counter-pressing situations.
For that, he needs a fast striker who can get in behind – and use that momentum to keep the move flowing, rather than simply take pots shots from the angle.
From a tactical perspective, Werner is the perfect German striker for a German tactician. There is talk of a move for Erling Haaland this summer as Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud both look to be on their way out, suggesting there are figures inside Chelsea worried about Werner’s profligacy in front of goal.
It is unlikely Tuchel is one of them. In Werner he has a superb young striker with a track record at Leipzig that suggests he simply needs time to adapt to English football.
Meanwhile, for games in which more guile is needed in deeper areas, then Tuchel has one of the best false nines in Europe – Havertz – at his disposal.
Like Werner, Havertz has struggled to settle, which is completely understandable given the backdrop of the pandemic; every new signing to the Premier League needs a season to adapt, and that is before considering the effects of UK lockdowns.
You can count on one hand the number of 2020 summer arrivals to the Premier League who have made a success of their first season. It is telling that most of those who have – Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani, for example – are experienced players in their 30s.
The pandemic has been tough on everyone and we ought to remember that when judging Werner’s impact.
That will soon become apparent when, in 2021-22, Werner becomes a star player for Chelsea; when the goals start flying in and Chelsea realise they never needed Haaland.
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