Following the announcement last week that we have reached an agreement with RB Leipzig for the transfer of Timo Werner, we spoke to The Athletic’s Raphael Honigstein to hear what we can expect from the German international forward when he pulls on a Chelsea shirt next season.
Among the details given, the German football expert talks about Werner’s position on the pitch, likens his style to some former greats, and highlights the young attacker’s goal statistics…
‘I think it’s really exciting for Chelsea,’ said Honigstein, who also appears as a pundit on BT Sport’s Bundesliga coverage.
‘I would say he’s a hybrid between a striker and a winger. He’s happiest when he can cut in from the left, onto his right foot, and run at people, or into spaces.‘But he is not one-dimensional, because his game has really improved in recent months. I think he’s become better in the smaller spaces, and better linking up with the midfielders, not just being the guy that touches the ball once in the box.’Read: Werner transfer agreed
With 32 goals in 44 appearances across all competitions for Leipzig this season, Werner is finding the net at an extraordinary rate right now, but he also has 13 assists to his name, and Honigstein believes his versatility is one of the most striking aspects of his game.
‘For historic comparisons, in terms of position, I think he’s a Thierry Henry-type striker. The other players I think of would be [Sergio] Aguero, or Michael Owen, just in terms of being a quick, rather smaller type of centre-forward. He’s 180cm tall, but he’s not a classic No.9.
‘I think he’s happiest to play around another striker, or in a three, but he can lead the line through the middle and I think he will improve in that respect. He gives you so many options.
‘That’s exactly why he’s so useful, because you can play a possession game with him – he’s made huge progress in that respect under [Leipzig manager] Julian Nagelsmann – but he is, of course, absolutely deadly on the break, in transition. Against Premier League sides that push up and leave space behind the full-backs he is just going to be the ideal outlet.
‘I was looking at some old Chelsea performances from Jose Mourinho’s first spell, as part of the BT Sport Retro Goals Show, and it occurred to me just how exciting that team was, with Duff, Robben and [Joe] Cole often attacking teams from deep positions, then running at the opposition, and the excitement that generated in the stadium for many of those big games. I think Werner could have a similar impact if you give him the ball in a bit of space to run into, and I think people love that type of player because they just think that something might happen.’
At 24, Werner is still young for a striker but he has been around for quite some time already at the top level of German football. He first broke into the Stuttgart side aged 17 and it wasn’t long before he became the third-youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history. He has been a Germany international for three years, and represented his country at Under-15, 16, 17, 19 and 21s level, highlighting just how long he has been on the radar of football fans in his home country. It makes him very experienced for his age.
‘It feels like this is almost like his second career because it’s been going on for so long,’ says Honigstein, who penned a detailed profile piece on Werner for The Athletic earlier this month. ‘In those early days at Stuttgart, he was such a teenage sensation, but I think he was unlucky to be breaking through at a club that was beginning to be in real trouble. There was a mismatch between the expectations and the hype around him, and the quality of the team. The support for him in the squad, and on the managerial side, wasn’t really there, and I think some people made him the scapegoat. I think it was quite tough for him to deal with that.
‘But, like most strikers, he has quite a ruthless streak and I think it was ultimately very beneficial to him to do it his own way. He could have gone for an easier fit for him, let’s say, by going to another Bundesliga team, but I think the courage to go abroad and try himself in the Premier League with Chelsea is to be commended.’
That ruthless streak makes Werner extremely dangerous when running at opposition defenders and particularly when he is bearing down on goal, looking to execute one of his trademark cool finishes, that so often find the bottom corner of the net.
‘Some people have cast aspersions on his finishing because they’ve seen him miss the odd chance, but you look at the numbers and they’re all elite, in terms of positioning, in terms of the type of shots he takes, in terms of conversion rate,’ says Honigstein, ‘and he’s only 24, which I think is really key.
‘There aren’t actually many centre-forwards available who have scored that many goals at that age, because these types of players tend to peak a bit later in my experience. So I think it’s going to be really exciting to see Werner in this Chelsea team that is shaping up.’