Kai Havertz: “The silky German who won Chelsea the Champions League”

Yes, Kai Havertz is, indeed, the best on earth.

Following the German’s one-year signing birthday this week, it is more than valid to look back on some memorable highs and lows that led to the extreme talent’s career peak until now.

On May 29th 2021, Havertz joined an exclusive group of players who made history with the Blues by hitting the back of the net in the biggest stage of them all. Even though Chelsea fans knew it was just a matter of time for the German to turn into a key player for the team, it was little expected of him to reach his absolute prime in his very first season at the club. Especially considering the series of setbacks that happened throughout the year, such as adapting to Frank Lampard’s system, as well as contracting Covid-19 and struggling to get back in form. 

Hence why Havertz’s composure and preciseness when guaranteeing Chelsea eternal glory for the second time was the pinnacle of every supporter’s joy. The silky German faced several ups and downs during the season, and he took in all the criticism he got, and managed to turn them into a motivation to prove rivals wrong, and confirm Chelsea fans of their – not that unrealistic – expectations.

 "Havertz is through here, he is round Ederson, he must score, he has scored!" - Marc Atkins/Getty Images
“Havertz is through here, he is round Ederson, he must score, he has scored!” – Marc Atkins/Getty Images

An emotional rollercoaster: Havertz’s struggle under the Lampard administration

Moving to a new country, getting used to a new language, living alone, adapting to a new league and play style, at 21 years old, during a global pandemic. From the very beginning, Kai Havertz had a series of factors that prevented him from showing full confidence and put his undeniable talent into practice right away on the pitch. 

Besides external factors, while still under Frank Lampard, the German’s positions used to change as frequently as the tactics did. Undeniably, that was one of the main reasons that kept him from flourishing and being as influential as he was at the Bundesliga.

Even though Havertz has always had the qualities of a versatile player, having said so himself before, the general impatience for him to immediately produce the same numbers as he did at Bayer Leverkusen came as an entirely counterproductive demand. That immediatist perspective led Lampard to constantly switch his positions, giving him no opportunity whatsoever to develop in the right way

In the first half of the season, Havertz made his debut for the club starting in midfield in a 4-2-2-2 against Brighton. Then, against Liverpool, as a striker-come-false 9 in a 4-3-3. Furthermore, against Barnsley for the EFL Cup, he played as a central attacking midfielder – which is what he was mainly used to back in Germany – and scored his first-ever career hat-trick. For the following matches against West Brom, Crystal Palace, and Southampton, still as a no. 10, Havertz managed to provide an assist, was fouled in the box converting that into a penalty, and scored a goal. In this current position, Havertz was, similarly to the way he was back at Leverkusen, given more liberty to run behind defenders, arrive at the box at the right moments, as well as participate in play buildups.

 Chelsea's new number 29 makes his debut for the club against Brighton for the Premier League - Getty Images
Chelsea’s new number 29 makes his debut for the club against Brighton for the Premier League – Getty Images

When things started to look better for Kai in the 4-2-3-1 formation, the team was not responding in the same way, which caused Lampard to switch to a 4-3-3 back again. During that time, the no. 29 played both as a dual 8 partnership alongside Mason Mount, and as a right-winger. His place had not yet been found tactically, and the inconsistency in his performances led to quick reactions by many, especially considering his (until the signing of Romelu Lukaku this season) record-breaking price tag of  £72 million.

Further on along the season, once again, external factors came in the way for Havertz’s development in the club, as he contracted Covid-19 in November 2020. And, unfortunately, it struck him badly. At the time, Frank Lampard informed that the German felt the symptoms heavily, and he had to work hard in order to get back to his fitness levels. In a press conference, Havertz stated:

“It lasted some four to five weeks before I could even think of getting back on to a football pitch. During the time I was ill, I was quite ill, to be honest. And I wish it upon absolutely no one.”.

After a few weeks of intense training, Havertz finally reached his 100% form again, coming back from illness for the first time as a sub for the Rennes away game, for the Champions League group stage. He then went on to start some of the next games around the holidays, which would, later on, be set as Frank Lampard’s last games in management, but was mostly given only a few minutes on the pitch, generally coming in at approximately 75 minutes. 

With the sacking of Frank Lampard, even though Havertz did not develop under him as much as both of them would have liked to, it is important to take into consideration some of the lessons learned from the previous gaffer. Arguably, one of his most remarkable takes on Havertz were:

“Kai’s talent is undoubted. Giving him the time to adapt is crucial. He is going to be a huge player for this football club. He has all the attributes and personality and attitude. He is going to be a top-class player.”.

By all means, in Frank we trust. 

The Tuchel effect: the false nine position as the missing piece of the puzzle

Once Frank Lampard was sacked by the board, following a series of disappointing results, Thomas Tuchel was appointed as Chelsea Football Club’s new manager. As soon as it was announced, expectations for Havertz to grow under the new gaffer skyrocketed. 

It was obvious since the match against Wolves at Stamford Bridge that Chelsea were turning into a completely different team – the making of “a team nobody wants to play against”. Unfortunately, Havertz’s bad luck strikes once again, as he was ruled out from playing for a couple of weeks due to injury. Furthermore, he was slowly coming back on the pitch, being subbed on into a couple of games at the 80-minute mark. 

In the pre-match press conference ahead of the Leeds clash, Tuchel intrigued a considerable number of people when in a press conference, he stated: “It’s not so clear where he needs to settle, does he need to settle on one special position? Or is he kind of a hybrid player. Today, I would say he’s in between a nine and a 10, something in between.”. After taking his time and being reinserted in the starting XI, the young attacker was set to make his debut for the new era as a starter for the Premier League match against Everton. 

It is safe to say that the Everton match was an absolute game-changer. He excelled at the false nine role, by far being the best performance we had yet to see from him. Superb heavy touches, aerial duels won – showing considerable improvement on his physicality -, great spaces, exquisite positioning, finally showing what he was there for. At first, his on-goal shot deflected on Everton’s Ben Godfrey, forcing an own goal, and then he went on to earn a penalty for Jorginho to convert into a goal. Fully deserved Man of the Match performance, as Tuchel stated: “He’s a guy that has the ability and talent to be a dominant figure in the offense. He stepped up today.”. After full-time, with a smile and a bright look on his face, Havertz declared:

“I played like a false nine, I had the freedom to go everywhere I wanted to go, and I think that’s good for me”.

 Thomas Tuchel congratulates Havertz on his performance after full-time against Everton -  Glyn Kirk/EPA
Thomas Tuchel congratulates Havertz on his performance after full-time against Everton –  Glyn Kirk/EPA

As Havertz was now underway to develop under the new Blues boss, and a position that suited his flexibility and decisiveness in the front three was finally found, eagerness for him to unleash his full potential was at its peak. 

Fighting for a place in the starting XI, Havertz made certain to never go unnoticed again with any opportunity he got to be on the pitch. Some noteworthy displays throughout the dramatic journey to secure top four in the league, together with the road to the Champions League knockout stages include the clashes against Crystal Palace, Fulham, Real Madrid, and evidently, the Manchester City final. 

The Crystal Palace match was an absolute delight for Chelsea fans. The Blues completely dominated the opposition, and the German superstar made his mark only 8 minutes after kick-off, just so that 2 minutes later he could turn into a creator for Christian Pulisic’s goal.

Moreover, the Fulham fixture was of tremendous importance in order to rebuild Havertz’s confidence. The German had perfect positioning awareness at all times, which allowed both Mason Mount and Timo Werner to provide two outstanding through balls, converting them into goals. At last, the match against the 13x Champions League winners. Even though his name did not appear in the scoresheet this time around, many argue that the no. 29 had his best ever 90 minutes at Chelsea. Havertz put in a masterclass and, on some other lucky day, he might have even scored a hat-trick. Involved directly in the first goal, his header struck the bar so that Timo Werner’s close-range header found the back of the net. His composure and smoothness were distinguishable, making sure some of the Los Blancos players would lose sleep over him, if you know what I mean. 

Immortality status: just the beginning of Havertz and his potential to build a legacy at the Club

Needless to say, the best was saved for last. Without discussion, £72 million suddenly felt like a complete bargain. Kai Havertz could not have found a better time to score his first Champions League goal, as time stopped while he was doing so. 

It felt like it was written in the stars, really. A generational talent that comes to Chelsea in the most uncertain times of all, with almost everything working against him: contracts Covid, struggles to get back in form, and yet secures his immortality status in spite of all of that.

Kai Havertz celebrates Chelsea win following the Champions League Final – David Ramos/Getty Images

Right away from kick-off on May 29th, Havertz looked like he was ready for anything, displaying admirable composure and awareness of his positioning. At the 41:57 minute mark, history was made by the silky German, who put an end to the shameful “flop” debate, as he painted Europe blue. 

The best part is, this is only the beginning. Havertz’s talent was always there, and now that he has had time to adapt, his best position is settled. Now that his confidence is immensely boosted, his development into a world-class player will be a privilege to witness, and he will go on to play his part to continuously bring glory to Stamford Bridge. In Cesar Azpilicueta’s own wise words: “Tough season but top mentality, this guy is going to be a superstar. He is already.”. 

Written by Maria Dulce (@usernamedulce)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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