Last season, Chelsea showcased a glaring need for a proven goalscorer. The Blues created chances at an elite rate, but that didn’t always translate into goals.
Frank Lampard’s men had 625 shots in the Premier League last season – 34 more than Liverpool and nearly 100 more than any other side not named Manchester City – yet their return of 69 goals barely stood out from the pack. Their tally of 71 missed big chances was behind only City.
To try and address that, Chelsea went hunting for a striker this summer and ended up landing Timo Werner from RB Leipzig. The 24-year-old had just fired home 34 goals in all competitions and looked exactly like the kind of player the Blues needed.
Werner’s Premier League career is only four games old, but that hasn’t saved him from taunts from rival fans over the fact he’s yet to score in the competition. In his defence, playing out on the left wing hasn’t helped that.
Now, the easy thing to do here is to point the finger at Lampard. After all, he’s the man who spent big money on a striker only to not play him as an actual striker. However, through no fault of his own, the boss’ hands have been somewhat tied.
With Willian and Pedro (correctly) being shown the exit door this summer, Chelsea were left with just three recognised wingers: Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech (whose status as a winger is debatable in itself). The problem for Lampard is that the latter two have been injured.
Neither Pulisic nor Ziyech have played a competitive minute this season, which has left Lampard with decisions to make. The lack of options has seen Kai Havertz and Mason Mount deployed out wide, but the player to whom that role comes more naturally is Werner.
The German isn’t your typical striker. He doesn’t like sticking to one position and battling defenders. Instead, he loves roaming around and dropping into vacant pockets of space – something we saw a lot of in Leipzig as Werner played alongside strike partner Yussuf Poulsen.
Instead of sticking Werner up at striker as a focal point during the early weeks of the season, Lampard has deployed Werner out wide to give him more license to roam around, and rightly so. He’d have been eaten alive already because the lack of fluidity and movement in midfield behind him would have forced him to stay central.
We saw it in the first game of the season against Brighton, in which Werner started centrally. Sure, he won the penalty for the opener and Chelsea did go on to win 3-1, but there’s no denying that the Blues looked stale and lifeless for too much of that game. The attack wasn’t there.
However, the exciting thing is that fluidity is nearly here.
Ziyech and Pulisic are both expected to feature in Saturday’s meeting with Southampton as the pair close in on a return from their respective issues, and when they’re free to start games, Werner will surely be deployed back in attack.
Now, Werner’s future role as a central striker will be a little odd. He’s still going to roam around a lot, but that’ll work in transition with Havertz, Pulisic and Ziyech doing the same thing. All four can take up any of the four spots in attack and will work to tear defences apart with their movement.
What that freedom does is create space. It’s something we see all the top teams do, and Lampard’s transfer business this summer suggests he knows that.
Werner will be expected to be in and around the goals a little more than he has been thus far, and we all know he’s good enough to finish off the chances when he gets them. It’s just a case of waiting for him to actually get them.
There’s still a while to wait before Chelsea become the four-headed monster we’re all waiting for them to be, but the results will surely be worth the wait.