Chelsea’s inevitable signing of German striker Timo Werner could well define the club’s future.
Given their transfer ban, a chance managerial change, and the exit of their star player, most Chelsea fans would’ve bitten several hands-off for a fourth-place finish before the season started. Yet, the club clearly aren’t satisfied with where they are.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, 17 years since he took the reins, is desperate to take the club back to the top of English football. The west London club’s latest impending acquisition is Werner, a player who has torn up the Bundesliga this year and scored his 25th league goal of the season against Köln last week.
Werner sits among the best strikers in world football right now, and, at the age of 23, has chosen Stamford Bridge at the next destination in his career.
The COVID-19 crisis has made its first big intervention in the transfer market
Werner’s signing for Chelsea comes after heavy interest from Liverpool, who are still in need of investment in attacking depth, especially with star men Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane due to play in the African Cup of Nations next January. Liverpool were initially favourites to nab Werner, especially after he praised the club in an interview, but the COVID-19 crisis has made its first big intervention in the transfer market.
Chelsea find themselves in a unique, financially secure position. They were able to save money last summer due to their transfer ban, have a plethora of profitable talents on loan at European sides, and have an owner in Abramovich who is happy to make losses in his investments. Liverpool, however, operate with an earn-to-spend model, with losses due to COVID likely to have eaten up most of their transfer budget.
This is why Chelsea, aided by the lure of manager Frank Lampard and a word in the ear from Germany teammate Antonio Rüdiger, have been able to acquire Werner’s signature. Werner has the star quality required to help Chelsea move towards ending the Man City-Liverpool Premier League duopoly, which forms the crux of their “three-year plan,” as discussed by David Ornstein of The Athletic.
Defensive issues have frequently cost Chelsea points at key moments
Despite their relative success this season, Chelsea haven’t had the same amount of star quality as in previous years. Losing Eden Hazard to Real Madrid in the summer has left them with less creativity in forward areas, and while his replacement Christian Pulisic has had flashes of brilliance, he hasn’t provided the levels of consistency required at the top level.
Even though Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho have been two of the Premier League’s best midfielders this season, 2017 PFA Player of the Year N’golo Kanté has struggled to fit into Lampard’s system. Goalkeeping and defensive issues, particularly at left-back, have frequently cost Chelsea points at key moments as well.
But it’s not all doom-and-gloom. One of the shining lights of Chelsea’s season has been striker Tammy Abraham, who has knocked in 13 Premier League goals so far this season. The loss of Hazard will have hopefully been mitigated by the arrival of Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech this summer, injecting Chelsea with more creativity, and a proven playmaker at the highest level.
Werner’s signing could limit opportunities for Tammy Abraham
However, if Chelsea are to capitalise on Manchester City’s European ban and a potential drop-off in the form on Merseyside, they require immediate assistance from a world-class goalscoring threat. This is where Timo Werner comes in.
Chelsea lack real depth in their attacking options. Abraham has proven to be a somewhat reliable goalscorer, but he is still a few years away from fulfilling his potential. Olivier Giroud isn’t getting any younger and Michy Batshuayi has consistently proven that he doesn’t belong anywhere near a club of Chelsea’s calibre.
Some fans fear that Werner’s signing would limit opportunities for Tammy Abraham to the detriment of his development. Equally, signing Werner could do the exact opposite, as Werner enjoys playing alongside a more physical striker, exhibited by his prolific record alongside Youssef Poulsen at Leipzig. Ideally, a Werner-Abraham partnership would be similar to the Torres-Drogba partnership Chelsea fans expected to see back in 2011; one provides physicality and intelligent positional play to draw in defenders, creating space for a pacey goalscorer.
Lampard’s side would possess a new level of tactical fluidity
Also, even if Lampard chooses to stick with his favoured 4-3-3 formation, long-serving wingers Pedro and Willian are set to leave the club this summer, leaving more opportunities for either Abraham or Werner to play out wide. An attacking line of Ziyech, Werner, and Abraham would contain three players who are all happy to occupy positions on both flanks and through the middle, meaning Lampard’s side would possess a new level of tactical fluidity that would wreak havoc on Premier League defences.
Signing Werner would have a twofold impact on the Premier League. Not only would Chelsea have a proven world-class goalscorer at their disposal, but they would also be taking away a potential transfer target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. With Mane and Salah engaged internationally, Klopp will need options other than Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino, as well as youngsters like Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and Rhian Brewster, to call on.
Werner would fit the bill, with his ability to play both as a wide left forward and as a pure striker, which would allow Roberto Firmino to dictate play from deeper positions. While Werner may not have started every game for Liverpool, he would have provided Jurgen Klopp with more opportunities for tactical flexibility.
The prospect of running 4-2-3-1 formation, with an attacking four of Mane, Firmino and Salah all supporting Werner, would have had Klopp (and almost every Liverpool supporter) drooling.
Werner’s signing could spell the start of a sustained Chelsea resurgence
It’s also worth considering where Chelsea will be situated at the end of their three-year plan. Chelsea’s current squad has an abundance of young talent, with the likes of Abraham, Tomori, Mount, Pulisic, Gilmore and (hopefully) Werner all near their primes come 2022.
In contrast, Liverpool’s current front three will be in their 30’s, while many of Manchester City’s key players, such as David Silva, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne, will probably have left the club or even retired. These clubs could be in a phase of transition just as Chelsea hit their prime.
As big as the Werner signing is, Chelsea still have holes to plug, especially in goal and at left-back. But if Lampard can resolve those issues by bringing in the right players, from the youth team or otherwise, Werner’s signing could spell the start of a sustained Chelsea resurgence.