Like vintage Randy Orton, Chelsea struck. Outta nowhere.
On Friday afternoon, the Blues dealt Liverpool the most opportunistic of RKOs to snatch RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner from right under their nose, agreeing to pay the German’s full £54m release clause as the Reds continued to hesitate.
It has all the makings of an incredible bit of business by the west Londoners, as they go about building a side worthy of challenging for domestic and European titles in the 2020s. The move for 24-year-old Werner is a great start.
And while the deal is yet to be confirmed, everybody’s asking the same question: ‘How will Chelsea line up with Timo Werner?’
Well, we covered it here. But the truth is, it’s incredibly tough to predict. Not only is the German a ruthless goal machine, but he’s mightily versatile as well and has matured considerably under the watchful eye of Julian Nagelsmann this term.
There’s just so much Frank Lampard could do with his new £54m toy and here are a few ideas…
With Lampard generally utilising a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 during his debut campaign in charge, many might regard Werner as a superior option up top to displace Tammy Abraham.
However, with Abraham just 22 and evolving into a well-rounded Premier League forward after a difficult start, it seems unlikely that Lampard would hinder the development of the Cobham graduate in favour of a player who rarely plays as the lone front man.
Sure, there is potential for Werner to operate as a false nine, or a nine-and-a-half if you will, but then the Blues will only have Christian Pulisic among their attacking options who’s willing to stretch the defence in behind. Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi are players who like to receive at feet and between the lines, while Mason Mount can only penetrate defensive lines with his movement to an extent.
Similarly, if Lampard asked Werner to provide depth to the Chelsea attack and play on the shoulder of the last man, you can envisage the Leipzig man struggling. Do you really think Sean Dyche and Roy Hodgson are going to have their defensive lines up at the halfway line?
Although he’s matured into a complete forward under the tutelage of Nagelsmann, there will undoubtedly be less space in behind for Werner to exploit, especially against inferior opposition. He could quite easily become isolated as the lone forward, with moments only coming in transition.
This was a possibility when talking about a potential move to Liverpool; Jurgen Klopp switching to a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate both Werner and his potent front three.
The forward played on the left wing for much of his time at Stuttgart and his movements out to the left flank have been a feature of his play this season.
He likes to operate more as an inside forward in the half-space, where he can combine and utilise his impressive ability in one-on-one situations. While not a refined dribbler, his rapid acceleration and adept close control mean he’s capable of beating a defender on either side, making him unpredictable.
His understanding of his teammates’ movement and recognising when to create an overload is mightily impressive when he saunters towards the left flank and, overall, you can envisage Werner operating as an inside forward down the left with a marauding left-back overlapping down the touchline.
It’s from this position where Werner can ghost into the box and pop up on the blindside of defenders, potentially being a particular beneficiary of Ziyech’s delivery from the right.
Werner has formed partnerships with a pair of target men, Yussuf Poulsen and Patrik Schick, to tremendous effect, with the German a major beneficiary of their skill sets.
With one of these two acting as the focal point of Leipzig’s attacks, Werner’s allowed greater freedom to roam between the lines and drift over to that left flank. The German’s also shown this term his superb understanding of his strike partners’ movements and knowing the optimal time to exploit space either in front or behind the defence.
However, a switch to a front two at Stamford Bridge appears unlikely and will likely compromise the development of Pulisic, Mount or Hudson-Odoi. But boy, would it be a lot of fun.
In a 4-2-2-2, Chelsea could have Werner and Abraham as the strike pairing, Ziyech and either Mount or Hudson-Odoi serving as creators between the lines, while Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante would have a ridiculous amount of defensive responsibility in a double pivot. The Blues could have Reece James and Ben Chilwell ravaging down the flanks as well.
Dreamy, but no. Just no.
Nevertheless, the dynamic between Werner and Abraham could work. With the latter’s aerial ability and the former’s movement, their skill sets do complement one another. Also, this system probably grants Werner the greatest opportunity to do what he does best; exploit space, create overloads and run in behind.
Okay, this is certainly the least likely of them all, but it could work.
The German’s a player who doesn’t like receiving with his back to goal. Instead, he loves taking up positions a typical number ten would on the pitch before receiving on the half-turn and driving at the defence.
There will be concerns about his ability to execute the killer ball from central areas – he’s better in crossing situations – but his mobility, spatial awareness and capacity to occupy any position in the attacking third mean the 24-year-old could be deployed effectively as a ten in a 4-2-3-1.
One for Frank to think about, that’s for sure.