Timo Werner’s Chelsea career is off to a rocky start, posing many questions as to what the German brings to the team and where he fits.
It is very rare that signings in football come with a guarantee of success, but when Chelsea signed Timo Werner from RB Leipzig for £47.6 million, it seemed it had achieved exactly that. After all, Werner had been tearing apart defences in Germany for a few seasons. The numbers were mind boggling and they were only getting better. The German had scored 95 goals in 157 matches for RB Leipzig, culminating in his most prolific season yet where he plundered 34 goals in only 45 matches.
The Blues struggled to break down solid defences in the 2019/20 season. Despite Tammy Abraham scoring 16 goals in the Premier League, most associated with the club thought a goal scorer of Werner’s pedigree was exactly what was needed to take Chelsea to the next level. However, half way through his debut season in west London, there are far more questions than answers about what exactly Werner can bring to the Blues.
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The obvious issue is that the goals have completely dried up. Werner has managed just four goals in the Premier League this season with the last of them coming against Sheffield United in early November. This isn’t a massive problem though. Werner is frequently getting into good positions and then missing easy chances—the German has an xG of 6.6 in the league, which means he is the 4th worst finisher in the league based of xG differential—but these missed chances can be put down to a lack of confidence.
It’s far more important that Werner is getting into good positions, and while Chelsea needs him to find his scoring shoes quickly, it is safe to assume that at some point the finishing touch will come back and those chances will turn into goals.
The far more pressing issue is the German’s overall performances have been so far off the requisite level for a player of top quality. The majority of his Chelsea career has seen him play on the left of a front three and it is clear this is not his optimum position. Werner is not an elite dribbler, so when he gets the ball to feet, he doesn’t trouble the fullback by running at him. He also is an average passer and crosser of the ball, so he rarely produces any sort of incisive ball inside. This means that Chelsea’s attacks down the left are stunted as whenever the ball finds the German as it seems all he is capable of doing is playing a simple pass inside to Mason Mount or laying it back to Ben Chilwell.
These issues have led to many Chelsea fans calling for him to play in his “preferred” role, which is as a No. 9. When Werner has led the Blues’ line, the performances have been even worse. Excluding the Southampton game—where the opponents played an exceptionally high line meaning Werner had space to break in behind—Werner has never displayed any of the attributes needed to play up top in the Premier League. He is poor with his back to goal as he struggles to deal with the physicality of Premier League defenders, his link-up play is nowhere near someone like Oliver Giroud. He also has the strange tendency of dropping back into the midfield third when the Blues are trying to build attacks, thereby taking away any sort of focal point around which Chelsea can create attacks.
Frank Lampard’s decision to play him on the left therefore made complete sense. It allowed Chelsea to still have a No. 9 in either Abraham or Giroud, who the Blues can build attacks around, and Werner could still get into the box to get chances. He did this to great impact away at Burnley, for example, where his position starting on the left allowed him to get in behind Matt Lawton at right back and score a one-on-one chance.
However, with Chelsea struggling to create via other avenues recently, Werner’s inability to contribute in the build-up from the left is becoming an increasing issue. The Blues have looked far more dangerous in recent weeks when both Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi have started on the flanks; as two proper wingers who are elite 1v1 dribblers. This means the Chelsea attack is far more varied and threatening, so suddenly, Werner on the left doesn’t seem like a solution either.
The final suggestion from fans is that Chelsea should attempt to mirror what Julian Nagelsmann was doing at RB Leipzig and play with two strikers. This would allow Werner to play off either Abraham or Giroud, meaning he wouldn’t have to try hold the ball up and could focus on getting into scoring positions. Unfortunately, Chelsea simply doesn’t have the squad for this.
Lampard’s attempt to play a double pivot earlier in the season with N’Golo Kante playing next to one of Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic was unsuccessful as the latter two don’t contribute anywhere near enough in the defensive third. Frankly, changing your whole team set up for a player who has four goals in the league this season makes little sense.
What is the answer though? Well for now, Werner should be benched. His confidence is through the floor and the Blues are simply better off with more conventional wingers at this moment in time. He should hopefully play his way back into confidence with solid appearances off the bench, like Hudson-Odoi has managed in recent weeks.
The Bundesliga is a vastly different league to the Premier League, teams tend to play with high lines and counter attack at pace, which was a game Werner was far more suited to. He should still be afforded more time to find his feet in a vastly different setting, but Chelsea can ill afford to drop more points this season, so he needs to find his feet quickly. Until his game starts to adapt, the Blues need to find different solutions.