Football Features

Timo Werner: Should Chelsea fend off any Newcastle Utd interest – or invite it?

By Harry Edwards

Published: 9:13, 20 October 2021

Newcastle United’s recent takeover has seen the Magpies linked with practically every name under the sun, including Timo Werner.

According to reports in Germany, Newcastle have been in contract with Werner’s representatives, with the striker’s future at Chelsea currently in doubt following the summer arrival of Romelu Lukaku.

But what should Chelsea do? Should they cash in on Werner while they can, or keep the faith in the German?

Well, as a precursor, further reports from the Telegraph suggest that Newcastle are likely to have a budget of “just” £50m in January, meaning any move for Werner would either be financed by sales or come with little to no profit for Chelsea on the £47.5m they spent in 2020.

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Werner was signed in 2020 as Chelsea tried to solve their centre-forward problem, having struggled to replace Diego Costa following the Spaniard’s departure in 2017. That’s three years in which Chelsea had to suffer without a top-quality striker, with Alvaro Morata lacking in confidence, Olivier Giroud not a long-term option and Tammy Abraham not given enough faith.

In Werner’s final season with RB Leipzig, the German scored 28 goals in 34 Bundesliga matches, so excitement was high among Chelsea fans — especially as the Blues’ top league scorer in the same season (2019/20) was Abraham on 15.

The start of Werner’s life in England was a fairly impressive one as, although he only scored three goals in eight Premier League matches, he was causing problems for defences and won a penalty on his debut. Werner also scored three goals in his opening three Champions League matches including one from a penalty which he had won.

But that would be where his season truly peaked in front of goal, with eight goals in his opening 12 games across all competitions. The next 40 games for Chelsea brought just four goals across all competitions, one in the Champions League (in the semi-final second leg win over Real Madrid), one in the FA Cup and two in the Premier League — though he did still end the campaign as the club’s joint-top goalscorer alongside Tammy Abraham.

Focusing on the Premier League alone, across 35 matches Werner scored just six goals at an average of 0.21 per 90 minutes, hitting the target with 40.51% of his 79 shots and underperforming his xG (11.45) by 5.45.

Comparing that per 90 to the other big-name strikers in the Premier League last season, Werner does not come out well (and that’s before we even think about including Mohamed Salah and Bruno Fernandes).

When pit up against Harry Kane, Patrick Bamford, Ollie Watkins, Jamie Vardy, Danny Ings, Edinson Cavani and Alexandre Lacazette, Werner’s average of 2.73 shots per 90 minutes last season was third only behind Kane (4) and Bamford (2.73), but his shots on target (1.11) was second-worst with just Edinson Cavani (0.99) below. Werner (0.4) was also pretty low for xG, with only Watkins (0.39) and Ings (0.35) worse per 90 but they both outperformed with Werner’s 0.21 goals bottom of the list.

Taking it out of per 90, Werner’s -5.45 difference from xG to goals was worse than any of the aforementioned strikers and any other player in the Premier League last season, with Neal Maupay (5.41) pushing him pretty close. But at the mid-point of the season, there was a change in role for Werner and you can split his 2020/21 into two slightly uneven sections based on managers, with the German playing 19 games (1,397 minutes) under Frank Lampard and 16 matches (1,205 minutes) under Thomas Tuchel.

Under Lampard, Werner was the starting striker in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with his attacking teammates looking to supply him. But when Tuchel took charge, Werner dropped into one of the False No.9ish roles, or inside forward for the Football Manager fans out there — the second line of attack in a 3-4-2-1. The change actually made Werner more involved in Chelsea’s attack.

The German was taking more shots per 90 minutes under Tuchel at 2.84 to 2.64 under Lampard, and also hitting the target more. And although he was also missing the target more, averaging 1.05 shots off target per 90 minutes, that can be put down to the fact he was taking more shots. The biggest worry for Werner was that he kept missing Big Chances, however, at 0.67 per 90 under Tuchel to 0.58 per 90 under Tuchel, while also scoring fewer (0.15 to 0.19). His xG and goals also took a hit, which led Chelsea to look to the transfer window once more.

This summer brought a return to Stamford Bridge for Lukaku, with Chelsea paying £97.5m to Inter Milan for the Belgian’s services, believing him to be the final piece of Tuchel’s puzzle. Aside from the obvious excitement, there were a lot of discussions over what it would mean for Werner’s future. For some, it was a signal of his time being up, but others were dreaming of the pair working together either as a partnership or with Werner behind in the 3-4-2-1.

In Lukaku’s first four Premier League matches, Werner played just 29 minutes and was also an unused substitute in the Champions League win over Zenit, watching on as his new teammate scored four goals including one on his second debut against Arsenal. Werner has since returned to the starting XI, both as one of the deeper two behind Lukaku and more recently a partner in a 3-5-2, but the German hasn’t been setting the world alight, slowly finding his way back to the team.

In the Premier League this season, Werner has one goal (scored in the 3-1 win over Southampton) at an average of 0.23 per 90 minutes from 2.54 shots with 1.16 hitting the target. The main difference with Werner this season, and it’s not a bad one, is that while he has missed 0.46 Big Chances per 90 minutes, his total xG is 1.93 — so he’s only underperforming by just 0.93 at this early stage.

Werner has also thrived outside of goalscoring for Chelsea since his signing, recording more assists than any other player at the club (12) across all competitions. That included 11 assists last season, three more than Mason Mount, not to mention the additional threat he had on goal in winning penalties. Under Tuchel across both Premier League campaigns, Werner has averaged 1.3 chances created per 90 minutes and recorded 0.28 assists, compared to 0.97 and 0.26 under Lampard. He was signed to be a goalscorer, yes, but the German is one of Chelsea’s better creators especially when playing with a partner.

It was in a front two that Werner thrived at RB Leipzig, partnered by Yussuf Poulsen, which gave him the freedom to move around the front line and stretch defences to aid his own game while still providing for the Dane.

Against Brentford, there were signs of Werner and Lukaku trying to make their partnership work, though they were perhaps trying a bit too hard, forcing situations between them when the better option would have been for one of them to go at it alone — a pass instead of a shot, ultimately ending in nothing. But that’s to be expected in the early days of the partnership, especially as Werner has only just returned to the starting XI.

So, should Chelsea let Werner leave for Newcastle — or anyone else — this January? The answer should be no. There’s definitely a place for him in Tuchel’s Chelsea, he just needs the self-confidence and backing from the manager as others have received when the chips are down.


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