Kai Havertz’s recent performances at Chelsea continue to look rusty. In the set of summer friendlies for the Blues, Havertz played at least 45 minutes in each game. While in the United States, this included losses to Arsenal, 4-0, and Charlotte FC on penalties.
As a club, Thomas Tuchel says the side looks unprepared. This tense feeling alleviated somewhat in the Blues’ 3-1 victory at Udinese a week before the Premier League campaign. Part of that comes from Tuchel ushering out his projected best starting XI for the upcoming campaign.
In many ways, this paid dividends. New boys Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly both looked sharp. The former of which held the opportunity to score a hat trick with the slew of chances coming his way. Sterling managed to grab one of Chelsea’s goals and looked threatening throughout the fixture.
Others, such as Mason Mount and N’Golo Kante, also put forth terrific displays against Udinese.
While other players picked up the slack with a week before the season, Kai Havertz looked out of place for Chelsea. He served as the main forward for Thomas Tuchel. Yet, he was lackluster upon receiving the ball.
Unfortunately, it is a microcosm of what the former Bayer Leverkusen brought to Stamford Bridge upon his $88 million transfer in September 2020. The German failed to elevate his game in terms of goals, assists and impactful performances over his two seasons in England.
Some argue that he is still young and can develop. Plus, he scored significant goals in the 2021 UEFA Champions League Final and ensuing FIFA Club World Cup. Even then, the silky forward lacks in key areas at the moment. Pressure starts to mount over the need to put forth consistent performances over an extended period of time.
Lack of consistency
Kai Havertz showed glimpses of greatness during this spell at Chelsea. He exhibits incredible touches, exquisite ball control and clinical finishing from time to time. For instance, the stoppage-time winner against Newcastle last season was superb. The win in March allowed Chelsea a boost for the closing months of the season to secure third plance.
His silky touch and elegant finish drew comparisons to Premier League greats Dennis Bergkamp and Dimitar Berbatov. Moments like this come few and far between. It is not a question of talent, but rather frequency and consistency.
Kai Havertz contributed just eight goals and three assists in his first season at Chelsea. The second season brought a slight improvement to 14 goals and four assists. Even then, the concern is that this number needs to grow. One thing holding that tally back is his ruthlessness in front of goal.
Timid in attack
A lack of ‘killer instinct’ plagued Havertz. He has moments of potential to be more aggressive. Yet, he lacks that previous Chelsea fire of Didier Drogba or Diego Costa.
When wide players or midfielders get into dangerous positions in the opponent’s half, forwards need to make positive runs towards the six-yard box or look for potential through balls. Havertz does not perform this seemingly simple task off the ball.
Another aspect that the forward needs to work on is his general finishing. As discussed earlier, convincing finishes are in the German’s locker. Oftentimes, his shots go wide or do not ask much of the keeper. It is evident from Havertz’s game that he prefers gentle and clinical finishes. The greatest strikers know when to apply measured shots versus when to truly put their laces through the ball.
Lack of confidence
Mental attributes are key to any player’s performances. In Havertz’s case, it is apparent that there is a mental block when it comes to taking on opponents.
The German possesses bursting speed. However, he is often afraid to take risks and carry the ball forward. Charging forward against smaller, less noteworthy opposition is one thing. Chelsea fans have yet to see that on a regular basis against the ‘big’ sides. Perhaps the fast-paced nature of English soccer contributes to this mental block. Whatever it may be, it holds back. Until the German can overcome that, he is not truly successful in the league.
This is visible in the way Kai Havertz plays the ball at Chelsea. Upon reception in advanced areas of the pitch, his first instinct is to step back and look for support rather than dribbling at defenders. Consequently, potentially dangerous attacks dwindle into dust. Contrarily, players like Raheem Sterling or Christian Pulisic actively try to take on defenders. They win fouls, put dangerous balls into the box or get shots on target.
For what it is worth, Havertz’s movement is great. He finds himself in dangerous areas in the final third. Yet, the decision making is his bane.
Against Udinese this past Friday, he could have converted at least three chances in key moments. In each, he had a poor attempt on goal, lost possession carelessly or made the wrong pass.
This is not to overly criticize Havertz. There is a reason Thomas Tuchel continues to select the forward in the starting XI. For one, he has a great first touch and is composed on the ball. Even then, he can expand on these talents by playing more progressively.
One attribute that he excels at more than any other player in the team is heading. He bagged multiple goals in the 2021/22 campaign with his head. Therefore, Blues wingers and fullbacks look for more aerial crosses with Havertz in the middle.
Another positive is that Kai Havertz plays in his best position for Chelsea as the main striker or a false nine. During his first season in London, and sometimes during last season as well, he had been deployed in midfield or as a winger, areas in which his qualities were stifled.
As evident from Tuchel’s team selection during the pre-season games, Havertz is likely to spearhead the attack heading into the first game of the season against Everton. Supporting the German in attack would likely be new signing Sterling and Chelsea’s most consistent performer Mason Mount.
Provided that these three players can get several games under their belt early on during the season and barring any injuries, we could see a great attack forming especially as the chemistry between the trio builds.
Getting a consistent string of starts is only going to help Havertz gain more confidence and improve his sharpness in front of goal. He was forced to compete with Romelu Lukaku for the striker position last season and with Olivier Giroud the season before but he now has the opportunity to completely make this position his own.
This season presents a great opportunity for Havertz but could also prove to be a nail in the coffin for the young forward’s time at Stamford Bridge if he is not able to take his game to the next level.
- Title: Trevor Ruszkowski/ISI Photos/Getty Images
- Second: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images
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