Timo Werner is still key to how Chelsea wants to attack

Isn’t it just poetic that after getting a £98 million final piece to complete the puzzle, the missing piece in Chelsea’s starting XI was the £48 million stone that was seemingly rejected by the builders? Timo Werner made 35 appearances in the Premier League last season, he scored six league goals and missed 18 big chances, the most in the Blues’ ranks. In addition to this, he also created 10 big chances, the second most in the team. This means that Werner was on the receiving end of most of Chelsea’s big chances and was on the giving end the second most.

Football is a complex sport, so nothing is ever straightforward. Player roles have evolved over time and therefore, player evaluation should evolve too. The role of wingers under Sir Alex Ferguson is different from the role of wingers under Jurgen Klopp. Werner arrived from RB Leipzig, where he was very much the talisman and at the heart of the attack.

Timo Werner is still hugely important to how Chelsea wants to attack

At Leipzig, the German was not only on the receiving of most of the team’s big chances, but was on the giving end of most of the side’s big chances, as well. According to SofaScore, Werner created 14 big chances for the German outfit in the 2019/20 Bundesliga, while receiving 34 big chances (not counting penalties). He converted 14 of those 34 and missed 21. He also created more big chances than anyone else on the team. This means, similar to Inter Milan’s structure with Romelu Lukaku, the system at Leipzig was built around Werner—and it worked.

Clubs that create lots of clear cut chances can only do that when they have players who have excellent movement. Contrary to popular belief, clubs don’t need to have players with exceptional creative talent—like Kevin De Bruyne or Thomas Muller—to create loads of high quality chances. That’s a myth. The movement is more important that the supply, the supply just hinges on timing, not talent. Back to Werner though.

Two Manchester City wins and one Real Madrid victory last season showed why Chelsea will always create more when Werner is on the pitch. Yes, he misses a lot of chances, but even opposing centerbacks will admit that they’d rather Werner is not in those goal scoring positions. This is why the German forces defenses to move. He’s quick, so he can make his runs effectively because he requires defenders to pick up his run at exactly the right time to make that run ineffective. That requires near-computing accuracy.

A perfect example of this is Mohammed Salisu in Werner’s goal against Southampton. Werner is in the semi-circle atop the penalty area when Ross Barkley picks up the ball. Salisu is on him. Salisu even pushes Werner slightly to make sure Werner stays in front of him and he can watch him carefully. Barkley picks out the perfect ball to a marauding Cesar Azpilicueta. Salisu turns to Azpilicueta and Werner makes his run. Azpilicueta gets to he ball at the right time to deliver a perfect low cross first time into the penalty area. Werner gets to the cutback at least 1.5 seconds before Salisu. Of course, Salisu notices Werner too late.

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One can’t really criticize Salisu for losing concentration because he has has to keep his eye on the ball. Werner, though, deserves all the praise. He knows Salisu is aware of him, he knows he needs Salisu’s attention to break, not even for long. Barkley’s pass provides that distraction and Werner recognizes that it’s his cue. Werner makes runs like this several times a game, finding him on those runs is where the Blues’ chances come from. At the top level, the general passing ability is much higher, so you don’t need a De Bruyne-level passer to pick out his runs frequently enough.

This, of course, requires that Werner has to be spotted for a pass to be made. It also means that whoever is trying to find Werner has to make the pass quickly because defenders’ attention will not be away from strikers for too long. Centerbacks that coordinate defenses look out for these things, so if a player makes a run and is not found, they’d (defense coordinators) likely spot that runner eventually. The myth that Werner would only be useful against teams that play high lines is laughable. Werner made a run behind Kortney Hause from inside the Aston Villa penalty area, Hakim Ziyech found him there. Werner came on for 20 minutes against Tottenham Hotspur and he got a big chance, though he missed. Lukaku played 90 minutes in that game and did not get any big chances during that period.

Werner had gotten two big chances against Southampton before Lukaku got one, which was in the 88′. These aren’t coincidences, there’s a reason Werner gets on the end of big chances as often as he does. Lukaku and Werner could prove to be a prolific duo because defenders may have solutions for Lukaku and Werner as individuals, but not the pair together. It’s difficult to mark Lukaku, but he stands in front of you often so you at least know where he is. Werner is always moving, so you either move with him (leaving your position open) or you let him be (leaving him open). Neither is an option for defenders and both of those options work to Chelsea’s advantage. That’s why the Blues will always create loads of quality chances when Werner is on the pitch and his teammates pay attention to his runs.

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