Kai Havertz is at a crossroads in his career. A victim of his own versatility, he’s been shoehorned into almost every attacking role in a desperate attempt to fill Chelsea’s attacking void over the past three years. Unsurprisingly this experiment hasn’t come to fruition, and now both club and player are left wondering whether it’s time to part ways.
Havertz is a unique attacking profile, a special talent. But with that, he needs players around him who are willing to facilitate his needs. He’s played across the frontline since arriving in West London. But as his performances for Germany have shown, his best moments come when he’s allowed to drop deep and play off a striker. Not quite a 10, not quite a 9, there are shades of Thomas Muller about how he plays.
Havertz has an innate sense of when and where to arrive in the box. His late runs are a trait that many Chelsea fans will be accustomed to seeing after witnessing Frank Lampard’s time at the club. But it’s these types of runs that the 23-year-old has struggled to utilise whilst leading the line for Chelsea. Responsible for instigating the press and darting in behind, Havertz is front and centre for Chelsea. There’s no element of surprise, and for that, he’s often bullied by central defenders.
In a cruel twist of fate, his tussles with defenders often lead to the ball dropping into the exact spaces that he’d wish to operate in – just between the six-yard and the 18-yard box. Havertz excels at picking up the pieces, ghosting into space before defenders have time to react. Aided by a quick turn of pace, his threat on the counter is often under-utilised. His slender frame and poor ball progression speak to the fact that he shouldn’t be entrusted with leading Chelsea’s forays through the lines, and yet often he is.
A great example of where Havertz is at his best on the counter was his goal against Malmo in the Champions League last season. Breaking from a corner, Callum Hudson-Odoi carries the ball upfield, with Havertz tailing him. When Hudson-Odoi approaches the box, Havertz, who’s not been picked up by a defender, accelerates into the box to collect Hudson-Odoi’s pass and clip the ball into the net.
Havertz’s ability to stay off the radar of the opposition defence is key to his success. It might appear counterintuitive, but the less Havertz touches the ball, the more effective he is. The German’s intelligence is his biggest strength. Havertz is a real threat in the air, with three of his five league goals this season coming from a header. It’s one area in which he excels, and with the return of Reece James, he’ll be sure to make the most of his whipped deliveries.
Chelsea need to start playing to Havertz’s strengths and take some of the attacking impetus off him. He is not a player who can lead the line. Take him out of the spotlight and watch him come to the fore. Havertz has heaps of potential, and Chelsea will surely rue letting him go. But with the Blues having failed to ever consistently operated with a number 10 since the departure of Juan Mata in 2013, it could be another case of right player wrong time.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Marc Atkins – Getty Images