Chelsea: Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling and the center forward roles

Raheem Sterling of Chelsea (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
Raheem Sterling of Chelsea (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

This season has forced Thomas Tuchel to come to terms with reality about his squad. He complained in the wake of the preseason game against Arsenal that Chelsea was having the same problems because it has the same players. Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling started that game—none of the Blues’ attacking outcasts in the starting XI. Not one of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner or Hakim Ziyech started. Sterling arrived this season, so the manager’s comments couldn’t have been referring to him. It then makes you wonder who Tuchel was referring to when he spoke on his frustrations.

Chelsea then played Everton in the first game of the season and Sterling played through the middle as the false nine at times. Tuchel made it clear that it’s possible for Sterling to play there much more often this season. This is in direct contrast to the narrative that was pushed last season when discussions were had on Havertz and Romelu Lukaku.

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Chelsea forwards Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling and the roles up top

Lukaku was said to be static and hindering the flow of play. Meanwhile, Havertz was said to be the dynamic false nine who got himself involved in build-up regularly and was superb at linking up play. Even then, it was obviously a narrative based on almost nothing at all. This further proves that Lukaku’s sidelining when fit last season was less Lukaku’s performance and more spite, or at least to prove a point. It says a lot that Tuchel had to drop Havertz last season, despite needing to make a point of ignoring Lukaku.

If Tuchel’s comments about his intention to continue playing Sterling through the middle is any indication, he clearly isn’t impressed with Havertz’s link-up play and deep dropping. Many let their hate for Lukaku blind them to the reality of Chelsea’s attacking situation. They pretended Lukaku was underperforming and Havertz was doing well.

Those comments from Tuchel are indicting for Havertz, who Tuchel said last season that he saw as a center forward and not even a false nine. What changed? Well, it is difficult to know other than Havertz looking underwhelming for large parts of last season, especially toward the end. Tuchel deciding to play Sterling through the middle will eventually be to the detriment of the team and the player (Sterling). It’s possible that, like Werner, many have refused to look past his goal tally and now think he’d do fine anywhere he’s deployed and in any system.

In seven seasons at Manchester City, Sterling only played as a center forward 17 times according to Transmarkt. He played as a left winger 117 times and as a right winger 74 times. Yes, Sterling is versatile, but versatile doesn’t mean you play him anywhere. Sterling got most of his goals from making runs behind the opposition’s back line and getting on the end of high quality chances, which he put away at a respectable rate. Sterling was able to do this because he was not the main focus of the opposition defenders’ attention.

No matter how unimpressed Tuchel is with Havertz at center forward, Chelsea is better off sticking to Havertz through the middle so that Sterling can play in the position he can have the biggest impact.

Next. Chelsea needs to nail down Edouard Mendy’s place. dark

How do you think the Blues should line up with their front three? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter!