Kai Havertz was very influential as Chelsea secured their place in the quarter finals of the Champions League with a 3-0 aggregate win over Atletico Madrid.
Frank Lampard didn’t appear to know what to do with the 21-year-old. While he was surely delighted to welcome such a talent to Stamford Bridge in the summer, the former Chelsea boss demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the sort of player the German is, using him as a deep-lying midfielder and a winger.
As Lampard’s replacement, Thomas Tuchel was hired in part to make better use of Chelsea’s two prize assets from Germany, of which Havertz is one and, on the basis of Wednesday’s elimination of Atletico Madrid from the Champions League, progress has been made.
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Havertz was selected to start as one prong of a three-man attack with Timo Werner flanking him on the left and Hakim Ziyech on the right. The trio combined for Chelsea’s opening goal in the 2-0 second leg victory, hinting at the potential of Tuchel’s fluid and interchangeable frontline.
Tuchel has clearly looked at how Bayer Leverkusen got the best out of Havertz. In the Bundesliga, the 21-year-old was seen as more of an attacker than a midfielder. It’s true that he would often blur positional and tactical lines, but Peter Bosz even used Havertz as a centre forward at times.
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Against Atleti, Tuchel used Havertz as the apex of his attack to good effect. The German isn’t an orthodox number nine, but as a facilitator he can perform a similar role for Chelsea to the use Roberto Firmino has carved out for himself at Liverpool. More than once on Wednesday night, Havertz dropped deep to create space for Werner and Ziyech in behind.
One area of Havertz’s game that Tuchel has still to unlock is his aerial ability. The 21-year-old is an exceptional header of the ball, but this Chelsea team isn’t so willing to send crosses into the box for him to attack. Given the number of full backs and wingers capable of delivering a ball Chelsea boast, this is somewhat peculiar.
Generally speaking, though, Havertz now looks more like the player Chelsea bought him to be (even if there was no clear plan for the £71 million signing). He has forged an understanding with Werner, in particular, and is starting to understand the importance of doing the simple things well.
A back to basics approach has been adopted across the board since Tuchel walked through the door at Stamford Bridge, and this was epitomised by the way Chelsea’s defence kept clean sheets in both legs against Atletico Madrid, with the Spanish side restricted to just four shots on target over the two games. Tuchel’s side have now gone over nine hours without conceding.
Kai Havertz (l.) und Thomas Tuchel
Image credit: Getty Images
But without the cutting edge of their attack, Chelsea’s defensive resolve would be for nothing and Tuchel’s side are looking sharp. In this shape, they must be considered among the frontrunners in this season’s Champions League. Perhaps only Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain would be seen as favourites against the Blues.
It wasn’t quite clear how Chelsea would fit so many elite attackers into their team after £200 million worth of business last summer, and it is now becoming clear that they can’t. Decisions will have to be made on who is worth keeping and who should be moved on. Despite his late impact off the bench, Christian Pulisic could be at risk. Tammy Abraham is another who might be looking over his shoulder.
Havertz, the quintessential modern forward who can play in a number of different positions, can be relatively confident of his place in Tuchel’s plans. Of all the regrets Lampard has over his time as Chelsea manager, not grasping the qualities of his most expensive outfield player is surely one of the biggest.
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