Football Features

The ‘Ozil-Ballack hybrid’ Kai Havertz goes into the Bundesliga history books during Gladbach 1-3 Leverkusen

By Harry Edwards

Published: 16:36, 23 May 2020

Bayer Leverkusen jumped up to third in the Bundesliga thanks to a 3-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach.

An important match between two exciting sides fighting for a Champions League place, there was a lot on the line for both Peter Bosz and Marco Rose. It was Bosz’s Leverkusen that took the lead after just seven minutes through Kai Havertz, stinging Gladbach as the Foals had done to Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend.

The hosts did manage to equalise just after half-time through Marcus Thuram, but they were level for only a matter of minutes before Havertz scored his second from the penalty spot.

Sven Bender completed the win for Bayer Leverkusen with a good header late on, putting them in control of their Champions League destiny.

Although the win was down to Leverkusen working excellent as a unit, it was very much the Havertz show.

An Ozil and Ballack hybrid?

For quite some time, Havertz has been considered the biggest talent German has to offer right now, having been key to Bayer Leverkusen’s rise up the Bundesliga at such a young age. Despite being just 20 years old, Havertz is already in his fourth Bundesliga season, breaking into the Leverkusen first team in 2016/17, making 24 appearances.

During his rise through the ranks, former Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich made a big statement about Havertz, claiming: “He’s the biggest talent I’ve seen since Toni Kroos.”

With all eyes on the Bundesliga last weekend, Havertz took centre stage against Werder Bremen, scoring twice in Leverkusen’s 4-1 win. But that was against a team fighting relegation. It was up to Havertz to replicate that in arguably Leverkusen’s biggest game of the season so far, against fellow top-four challengers Borussia Monchengladbach.

Throughout the 2019/20 campaign Havertz has been compared to former Bundesliga youngsters who went on to dominate both in Germany and elsewhere, but they reached another level in the build-up to Saturday’s game.

With Havertz being linked with a move to the Premier League when the next transfer window opens, former Bayern Munich and Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves compared the 20-year-old to two fellows stars who made a similar switch.

“He is special,” Hargreaves told Goal.

“All eyes are on Haaland and Sancho but Kai Havertz is the one from a German perspective. He is special and he is like a hybrid of Michael Ballack and Mesut Ozil. That says a lot in terms of his goals and elegance.”

During his career Ballack made a name for himself as a goalscoring midfielder – netting 77 times in the Bundesliga as well as a further 16 in the Premier League – while also being able to dominate in the middle of the pitch and create for his team-mates.

Although Havertz has been playing further forward for Leverkusen in recent matches, due to injuries, the 20-year-old has spent most of the season playing across the midfield (mostly centrally but also on the wings at time).

Havertz’s record-equalling goals

Against Gladbach Havertz led the line on paper again, but once the match started it was very different. Playing with the footballing brain of a veteran, helped by the coaching of Peter Bosz, Havertz dropped slightly deeper. He was not quite a false nine a la Roberto Firmino, but a 9.5, something between centre-forward and attacking midfield.

It was these movements that made Havertz so tough for Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter to keep a handle on, allowing the German to open the scoring inside seven minutes. With the ball out wide at the feet of Karim Bellarabi, following good work from Kerem Demiraby, Havertz ghosted through the back-line, perfectly timing his run to beat the offside trap.

There was still quite a lot for Havertz to do to try and test Yann Sommer in the Gladbach goal, but the 20-year-old made his first-time finish look easy with the defence beaten by his pace.

Havertz wasn’t done there either, as Leverkusen were awarded the chance to retake the lead from the penalty spot when Bellarabi was fouled by Elvedi (following Havertz’s delicious pass with the outside of his foot). The penalty was closer than Havertz would have liked, with Sommer getting a hand to it, but the power was enough to see in beat the Swiss goalkeeper and restore Leverkusen’s lead.

It took Havertz’ total Bundesliga tally to 34 during his career. No player has ever scored more than the that before their 21st birthday in the competition. He is tied with Klaus Fischer, who went on to score 268 goals in Germany’s top flight and become the competition’s second-highest scorer of all time.

It was also the 12th goal Havertz had been directly involved in since the start of 2020 – or the Bundesliga Rückrunde – scoring eight and adding four assists. No player can say they’ve beaten that total and Havertz has also had a hand it at least one goal in each of his last six Bundesliga appearances, scoring six and assisting three times.

Those assists are where the Ozil comparisons come in. Although he does not set up as many goals as the former German international does, Havertz’s ability to switch between being an attacker and midfielder is similar to the role Ozil played while at Schalke. Those comparisons aren’t new. Havertz himself previously admitted to seeing Ozil as an inspiration.

“It’s safe to say that I learned a lot from him. I just like how he plays. I don’t exactly know yet how my role in the national team is perceived,” Havertz said in 2018.

“There’s still a lot of time, and you don’t know where the whole thing is going to go.

“He has done a lot for German football. That’s why you can say that he has been a bit of a role model for me.”

But Havertz isn’t just about the goals and assists. Annoyingly for any defender who goes up against him, the German also has pace in bulk. No Leverkusen player clocked a higher top speed against Gladbach than Havertz’s 34.89km/h, and only five players across both teams covered more ground.

If Havertz continues in this form, which is very likely, Herrlich, Hargreaves or anyone who ever preached the good news about Leverkusen’s latest sensation will be vindicated and then some.