On the eve of the Carabao Cup final, Kai Havertz speaks about his versatility, how to have the right mentality in big games, and why small moments can change everything…
What is Kai Havertz’s best position? Since arriving on these shores months ago, that is a question many have asked about our irrepressible young German, still just 22 years of age.
Havertz’s tally of Blues appearances is already at 75, and in that time he played as a central striker, a support striker, a left winger, a right winger, an attacking midfielder and even, under Frank Lampard, as a central midfielder in a three.
These hybrid qualities are indicative of most of the world’s best young attacking players. Few are tied down to a single position, and as Havertz explains, that has been the case for him since he was a young boy growing up in Aachen.
‘I started my career as a number eight, or a number 10,’ he says.
‘In Germany I played also as a left and right winger, and in the last year as a number nine at Chelsea. I cannot say I have a favourite position. Nowadays you have to adapt your game to different positions. That makes a player stronger. The manager can switch it around if the opponent does something different.
‘I don’t have a favourite position, but I like to be in the box, close to the goal, and have the ball. The false nine suits me good, but when we have three strikers with two number 10s and a number nine, all these positions suit me.
‘I know I’m not a real number nine just waiting in the box and doing headers, I want to be influential in the game, get the ball, drop sometimes into midfield, and start attacks there.
‘A lot of my movements are instinctive,’ adds Havertz.
‘I’m a player who likes to play with instinct. It’s not easy because everything is very fast in these kinds of games. You have to be awake in every situation. I enjoy having the ball and playing with it. It suits me.'
It has been when leading the line that Havertz has scored his two most iconic goals yet, winners in both the final of the Champions League and the Club World Cup. The man for the big occasion, no doubt, but he is willing to admit he would like to have a few more goals to his name in the everyday of the Premier League, where he has just two this season, headers against Burnley and tomorrow’s opponents Liverpool.
‘You can play as well as you like as a striker, but if you don’t score, it’s always a bad game for the media,’ he points out.
‘I don’t see it like that. I’m now at an age where I have to prove it, I’m not a talent anymore. I have played five years at a good level, so I want to prove myself. I have shown in the past I can score a lot of goals in a season, but of course I’m a little bit disappointed with my Premier League statistics this year.
‘I’m here to improve and get better. I will do my best to keep my head up and score goals, do assists, because as a number nine, everybody wants you to do that.’
Havertz arrived at Stamford Bridge with a hefty price tag, and he says it’s not easy dealing with that pressure. He stresses he had the support of coaches at Chelsea to help navigate that period, and he has offered support to Romelu Lukaku, who has gone through similarly tricky times at points in his first season back at the Bridge. Havertz notes how quickly it has been forgotten the Belgian netted in both games at the Club World Cup.
‘I was not the first one in that situation, Rom is not the first one, and he will not be the last one. Sometimes it takes time and that’s it.
‘The first season was not my best, but at the end I scored a very important goal in a Champions League final. It helped me a lot. If I hadn’t scored it, everybody would say ‘he’s so bad’ and ‘what a disastrous first season’. I would not say that to myself because I was 21 when I came, and it’s not easy at this age.
‘I knew before I came it would take two or three years to adapt. Two seconds in one year changed the whole year for me. Small things can turn everything around.’
It is in some of the biggest games he has played in a Chelsea shirt that supporters have seen the very best of Kai Havertz, and they will be hoping for similar at Wembley in what is, somewhat remarkably, the attacker’s fifth final since he signed.
Having showcased his quality and calmness in Porto and Abu Dhabi, it might come as a surprise when he says he does get pre-match butterflies. History suggests they make him stronger.
‘Before the game everyone is a little bit nervous and feels it is a final, but after five to 10 minutes you can sweat it out a little bit and feel better when you have had two or three good actions or situations,’ he explains.
‘In these games the head plays a big role. We all are big professionals, we know Liverpool have a lot of good players, but we know how to play finals and hopefully we can show that again.’
If Chelsea are to lift yet more silverware, don’t be surprised if Havertz has provided another vital helping hand.