After making his 50th Premier League appearance in midweek, we sat down at Cobham for an exclusive chat with Kai Havertz to discuss his first half-century of league games, as well as a budding on-pitch partnership with Jorginho and enjoying the big London rivalries…
Having been sent on shortly after we fell behind for the third time in Wednesday’s derby with Arsenal, Havertz was unable to help inspire a Chelsea comeback but the German did register his half-century of league games in England to go alongside his 118 Bundesliga appearances for Bayer Leverkusen.
For a player who doesn’t turn 23 until the summer, that is an impressive haul, with the number rising to 236 games in all competitions since his senior debut in October 2016. It hasn’t all been plain sailing during his time at Stamford Bridge, with those early days particularly tough as Havertz worked to adapt to the Premier League and the unique demands of English football.
He often spoke about the intense matches, the need to cover more ground and the extra running at speed that was required, parts of his game that boss Thomas Tuchel has pinpointed for particular praise in recent weeks as he enjoys one of the brightest spells in his Blues career to date, certainly in terms of goals and assists.
With that period of adaptation now complete, there is no doubt Havertz now feels comfortable in English football and with life off the field.
‘It has all gone very fast,’ he confessed this week in an interview with the official Chelsea website. ‘I came here two years ago and hoped to get as many games as possible so I’m happy but I hope there are a lot more games to come.
‘It’s a very different league than I played in before but I expected it to be like this with very high-intensity football and the opponents always very aggressive. The league is very good so you have to play with a lot of courage and be brave.
‘I feel I’m settled in very well now and I feel very good. The beginning was tough when I arrived but I adapted maybe after six to 12 months. I knew before that it takes a while but overall I’m happy now about the two years.’
Havertz has every reason to be happy with his Chelsea career to date and the way in which he has kicked on from that Champions League-winning moment in Porto to enjoy a strong second campaign at the club.
His attacking numbers have steadily improved, from nine goal involvements in all competitions last term to 13 so far in 2021/22, nine of which have come in the Premier League and most of which are goals for himself rather than team-mates, perhaps not surprising given his new role higher up the pitch.
Excluding penalties, only Mason Mount has a higher tally of expected league goals and assists, while Havertz is also second in the rankings for shots and shots on target. However, there is also a pattern running throughout the German’s career whereby most of those goals and assists come in the second half of the season, a period known as the ruckrunde in Germany, with almost two-thirds of his goals for Chelsea and 71 per cent of his tally for Bayer Leverkusen coming after Christmas.
‘I know about it but I don’t know why to be honest,’ he answered on that quirk. ‘It has always been like that where my second part of the season was better than the first so I’m aware of it.
‘Hopefully next season I can also produce more goals and assists in the first half of the season.’
Not that Chelsea fans will be complaining if he keeps up his record of notching in the big games at the business end of the campaign, like our triumph in Porto or the recent meeting with Real Madrid, during which he netted in the home leg after being teed up expertly by Jorginho’s vision and pass.
That burgeoning relationship between the pair has been developing nicely in recent weeks, not least for our late winner against Newcastle United last month, and Havertz paid tribute to the Italian’s presence as creator.
‘We all know he won almost every trophy that you can win and for me he’s one of the best players I’ve played with,’ he said. ‘I like his style of play and I always know when he has the ball what he wants to do.
‘As a striker or midfielder, it’s very important that you have somebody behind you where you know what he’s trying to do. I love watching him play and playing alongside him.’
The latest in our run of three London derbies sees West Ham visit the Bridge this afternoon and Havertz relishes the local rivalries, something he experienced little of in the one-club city of Leverkusen.
‘It’s great,’ he admitted. ‘Of course there are a lot of tough matches, even for example when you play Liverpool or Man United. It feels the same because between every club there are a lot of rivalries and especially here in London.
‘It’s nice to have so many clubs that come from London. The derbies are always good games for us and to play at home now for this game is also nice and gives us a big push. I always like to play the big matches and I think we all enjoy that.’
Following Arsenal’s win in SW6 in midweek, the stakes are a little higher for this latest capital clash, with the Blues just two points clear of the chasing pack (albeit with two games in hand) and West Ham still pushing for a top-four finish of their own.
Home comforts have been hard to come by for Tuchel and his players this season and our home record, the ninth-best in the league going into this weekend, will need to be improved if we are to avoid a sticky end to the campaign. Havertz, though, is not underestimating the task of going up against the Europa League semi-finalists from the east.
‘We want to prove to the fans that we are stronger than we showed on Wednesday,’ he added. ‘Almost every game now is for us like a final. We have to win games and get points in the Premier League, then we will reach our goals as well.
‘West Ham are very tough to play against. They are a very physical team and you don’t find a lot of spaces or solutions against them. When you have one then you have to show up and try to use it.’
Solutions are something the silky German has specialised in of late and he will be hoping to make the difference once again to send the locals home happy.