Is the arrival of Romelu Lukaku good news for Timo Werner?

With the awaited return of Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea Football Club, a general concern inevitably developed amongst supporters and fans regarding the club’s no. 11, Timo Werner

As a matter of fact, one of the main reasons that led the club to re-sign the Belgian striker for a club record of £97.5m was the unmatched expectations of Werner’s performances last season. 

After multiple appearances in a Chelsea shirt, Werner has yet to convince others that he is still capable of reproducing his impressive stats at RB Leipzig and whether he has the determination, dedication, and drive to turn into an undroppable player for the Blues side. 

Timo Werner scores at the Real Madrid second-leg game on Chelsea's road to the Champions League final - Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP
Timo Werner scores at the Real Madrid second-leg game on Chelsea’s road to the Champions League final – Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

Timo Werner and his first season: from a good start to underachievement? 

As soon as Timo Werner set foot in Stamford Bridge, he was imposed on enormous expectations to fulfill. Due to his established reputation as a proven striker in the Bundesliga, it was thought he would instantly adapt to the Premier League, as well as put his lethal attacking force into action right away. It was believed that his technicality, speed, and one-on-one duels mastery would be the definite solution to Frank Lampard’s final third lack of finishing. 

However, things didn’t go exactly as planned. On a similar note to fellow countryman Kai Havertz, Werner faced a series of external factors that complicated the effectuation of a free-of-torment development. Yet, in his first few appearances, the German seemed like he was only going through an adaptation period, as his main strengths remained present in his attributes. Accordingly, his first goal for the Blues came after four matches, against Tottenham for the EFL Cup. Sadly, the effort came as ineffectual, as Chelsea were shunted out, eliminated through a penalty shoot-out.  

Furthermore, he went on to score a brace in the upsetting draw against Southampton, which happened to be his first and second goals in the Premier League. He also managed to leave his mark in the Krasnodar (Champions League group stage) fixture – and the Burnley clash as well. In the following months, the striker underwent a severe goal drought, scoring with a disappointing frequency, leaving supporters with deep frustration concerning the number of missed chances he sent to waste. 

Even though there were moments Werner has definitely chosen to leave behind, at all times, his persistence was admirable. Despite the media and fans tirelessly demanding results from him – most times not in the most constructive way – Werner has continuously proven he has an impressive, praiseworthy mindset. Undeniably, very few people would be able to endure such aggressive and brutal criticism without being severely affected emotionally and psychologically. 

During an interview with Chelsea TV, he commented about the importance of distancing from the media’s negativity, as well as how he coped with being the criticism spotlight:

“‘You have to step away from that and concentrate on your football. It’s not always easy because you have media on your phone, media always around you which can bring something up you can see, but you have to be straight, in your own bubble, to think only about the football.”. 

Unrecognized attributes – still a lot to thank for

In spite of all of his countless misses and misfortunes, he still gave the Blues fans a lot to thank for. Some of his best performances include his perfectly-timed pass to Hakim Ziyech to convert into a goal against Atlético de Madrid for the Champions League round of 16, in the second leg. Furthermore, the partnership was also repeated in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, when the German speedster combined his pace and preciseness, providing the ball to the Moroccan to make it 1-0.

The partnership that took Chelsea to the FA Cup final, after Werner helped Ziyech make it 1-0  against Manchester City at Wembley - Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC
The partnership that took Chelsea to the FA Cup final, after Werner helped Ziyech make it 1-0  against Manchester City at Wembley – Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC

Regarding goals, his West Ham match-winner felt like an absolute breath of fresh air, since he had not scored for the past couple of months. Despite it being a simple and easy tap-in, it was a massive boost for building his confidence up. In addition to that, his most memorable goal, which has got to be the Real Madrid close-range header, gave the Blues the lead in one of the most crucial times of all. 

Moreover, one distinguishable characteristic from the German that goes almost unnoticed is his superb off-the-ball-movement. After all, Werner has never been only about goal scoring, as he is a key figure in linkups and play building. What many do not realize is that without Werner’s excellent positioning and pitch-awareness, several goal threats would not have been concretized. Time and time again, the German managed to pull centre backs and fullbacks out of their positions, creating space for his teammates to benefit from. 

In addition to that, out-of-possession plays are also a big part of the German’s game, as he plays a crucial part in the counter-attack, since it is very unlikely for a defender to be able to reach him in pace. 

For instance, his strategy of getting the ball between the lines, turn, and drive forward has given him quite some numbers. As per Chelsea’s Player End of Term Report, the Blues’ no. 11 “scored more goals and provided more assists than any other Chelsea player in all competitions, while only Mason Mount made more appearances”. Another impressive statistic evidenced by the report was “Eight of our 17 penalties in 2020/21 were awarded for fouls on Timo Werner, four times as many as any other player”. Despite having 26 goal involvements in all competitions, people still fail to realize how Werner is important to the London club, and how it is only a matter of time for him to go back to his unbeatable form. 

Werner follows a similar path of first season struggles

Nowadays, if expected results are not met within a short time frame, questions are instantly raised, and players (as well as managers, even if that is not our current situation) are rapidly branded as failures. As the football industry is now all about immediateness and financial returns, people even forget Chelsea’s former Blues that struggled with their arrival at Stamford Bridge. 

For instance, the King himself, Didier Drogba, had a tremendously difficult time during his first season in West London. Arriving with – what was considered at the time – an elevated price-tag of £24 million, the Ivorian was expected to shine in the Premier League after being the star player at Olympique de Marseille in France. However, Drogba ended up not attending external expectations, nor his own standard of performance satisfaction: in 40 appearances, he scored 16 goals and provided eight assists in all competitions.  

Drogba and Mourinho joking around after a Champions League match at Parc des Prince in 2004 - Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Drogba and Mourinho joking around after a Champions League match at Parc des Prince in 2004 – Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Later on, he even commented that after such frustration of a season in England, he was ready to go back to Marseille, in order to be the main man once again. Moreover, he admitted in an interview with The Mirror that he even questioned himself: “Wow, where is my place here?”. Thankfully, José Mourinho, influential and legendary as ever, said, ‘You know, if you want to be the only king, then go back to the team that you were playing and scoring for. Go back there. But here, there’s 22 kings. So you accept it, work together, or you go — go back to where you came from and be the only king where everybody is behind you.”. And then, to put it simply into words, history was made.

In a similar way, Timo Werner was completely used to being the main man in attack in RB Leipzig. Either as a classic no. 9 or a left-forward, the German played comfortably whatever his position was, never running dry of goals or assists. His first season was far from perfect, but the constant pressure and adapting to the new style of play were big factors that kept him from flourishing from the very start, even though he was the first Chelsea player to reach the double-figure mark for both goals and assists since Eden Hazard in 2012-13.

Along the same lines of Drogba in his debut season for the Blues, Werner’s talent, abilities and potential are visibly there. He just needs to be given opportunities to dismantle his front-of-goal apprehension, and with more chances, he will be able to prove his worth, and continue to write history in Blue. 

How does Lukaku’s arrival affect Werner’s development?

At first, signing Romelu Lukaku, to many, sounded like an unmistakable replacement for Timo Werner. Naturally, as soon as the Belgian was announced, a question mark was raised regarding the German’s place in the team, and whether this inside competition would benefit or sideline the German completely. 

When questioned about how the new addition to the team would influence Werner’s position, Thomas Tuchel stated:

“I truly believe that this can be a big upgrade for him (Werner).” he said. The gaffer explained: “Having the attention on Romelu, who likes to be in the centre of the pitch and to fight physically with defenders, can create space for Timo. He can play a bit wider than he used to play for us last season.” 

Back in Leipzig, even though he was the reference in attack, Werner highly benefited from playing along with another striker. In the 2019/20 season, the partnership between the Chelsea forward and Poland international Patrick Schick was RB Leipzig’s lethal weapon. While one of them had the focused attention of defenders by carrying the ball out wide, the other moved between defenders waiting for a pass or cross in areas near the box. 

Lukaku and Werner in training at Cobham - Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC
Lukaku and Werner in training at Cobham – Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC

On that dual striker possibility, Tuchel commented:

“Timo and Romelu can be a good fit together. Timo loves to play around a reference up front and Romelu is clearly our reference up front being a tall and physical player.”. 

Furthermore, Lukaku’s presence on the pitch can give not only more space for Werner to explore by putting his almost unreachable speed into action, as it can work as a pressure relief for the German as well. Last season, the manager commented on Werner’s misfiring season: “It is about confidence and momentum, about trusting his instincts more and not overthinking it.”. 

With a reference striker working alongside him, it is more likely for Werner to start taking chances and believing in his quality again, as the scoring responsibility will no longer be fully deposited on him. In addition to that, he will also learn thoroughly with the daily interaction during training sessions with a mentality-monster, goal-predator Lukaku is known to be. 

Therefore, there is absolutely no doubt that the striker’s partnership, orchestrated by Thomas Tuchel, has got everything to get the best out of Werner. Even though he has not been what was expected of him, it does not mean he won’t excel wearing the Blues’ shirt. If truth be told, with Lukaku around now, his future looks as bright as ever.  

Written by Maria Dulce (@usernamedulce)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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