Kai Havertz is one of the most unique players in current football. When was the last time we have seen an attacking midfielder who stands 189cm tall but does not rely solely on his height?
In fact, Kai is pretty much good at everything. But that’s not his best quality. He’s not a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, as most other versatile players. He’s more like a jack-of-all-trades ... master of all. His supreme footballing intelligence helps him change play styles at will to whatever is required of him on any given day. He is a football manager’s dream. He’s athletically gifted and brimming with talent, be it finishing, dribbling or passing. He can do it all.
Chelsea really shouldn’t be looking to spend a huge sum on an attacking midfielder after adding Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner to a squad already boasting the likes of Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi. But a Kai Havertz doesn’t just come along every day. He is truly a generational talent, and he is truly a must-buy.
CHANGING ROLES AT WILL
Kai can be described as a chameleon. Just in the last three seasons, we have seen three different versions of him.
His second season in professional football (2017-18) often saw him play deeper in central midfield, where he used his height to his benefit, attempting an eye-popping 7.3 aerial duels per 90 minutes and winning roughly half, but at the expense of direct goal contributions.
Next season, the trend changed.
In 2018-19, his aerial duels were cut in half, to 3.6-3.7 per 90, as he started operating higher up in midfield. At the same time, he also also started affecting the game more directly. His goal output increased from 3 league goals to 17(!), though his assists dropped from 8 to 3 at the same time.
Why did this change occur? Positional sift aside, he simply started taking more shots — from 1.6 to 2.7 per 90 — and formed a formidable partnership with Julian Brandt to lead Bayer Leverkusen’s attack. Havertz finished as the team’s top goalscorer as they finished in the top four and return to the Champions League after a two-year absence.
That brings us to 2019-20.
Bayer entered this season without Brandt, which meant that Kai had to not only continue his goal-scoring exploits, but also step into Brandt’s creative shoes. You already know how Kai responded.
Havertz created 35 key passes in the league all of last season. After 26 Bundesliga matches this season, he’s already contributed 54 key passes — the most by any Bayer Leverkusen player. He also already collected 5 assists, more than his entire tally last season, to go along with his, once again team-leading, 11 league goals.
His take-ons have also increased, with 4.5 dribbles per 90 as compared to 2.7 last season. This number is lower than, say, Christian Pulisic but Havertz is not a winger. It’s just another thing he is good at and it’s just a part of his skill-set, not his main one.
But this is only year three. We can certainly expect this number to rise even higher if he is put in a system which requires it. He’s already proven that if system demands him to do something, he will do it.
To put it simply, Kai is a complete passer. Long passes, short passes, through balls, crossing on the ground, crossing in the air, he can do it all (and at an 86 per cent completion rate despite his advanced positioning). His passing range along with his vision and intelligence, makes him one of the tidiest players on the ball.
Is he conservative with his passing? Not at all! He is just accurate and does not like giving the ball away, regardless of where he is at on the pitch. To put it into perspective, Pulisic has 17.3 accurate short passes per 90 minutes. Kai has 41.1.
He is extremely efficient and does not get frustrated if you mark him. He will simply do his one-twos until he notices a pocket of space, which he does on quite the regular basis. In fact, only Thomas Müller, Jadon Sancho and Christoper Nkunku have been credited with more short key passes in the Bundesliga this season.
We have seen the statistics. Now it’s time to see the player in action.
The following clips will show how creative Havertz is with his passing high up the pitch, while having the accuracy one would expect from a central midfielder.
Here are a few examples of his long passing.
Want more examples of Kai’s passing prowess? You’re in luck!
Here is a 12-minute video just comprising of the variety of passes Havertz is capable of executing.
One does not simply score 20 goals in all competitions without being good at finishing. Once again, as is the theme, it’s quickly noticeable that Kai is good at a variety of finishes. In fact, according to One vs One his conversion rate is 24.44(!) per cent, which is higher than Timo Werner’s (22.73%) and Sergio Agüero’s (23.53%).
He loves to smash volleys and first-time finishes, but he is also excellent at cheekily chipping the ball over the goalkeeper. All this combined with his excellent first touch is the reason why Bayer have even tried him as a striker this season, a tactic which saw Kai score consecutive braces against Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach a few weeks ago.
The Bundesliga’s official YouTube channel has made our life easier here with their compilation of all his goals prior to the league’s suspension due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (By the way, he’s scored 5 goals since the restart already, in just four appearances!)
Some of his finishes bear extra highlighting.
One of the staples of consistent finishing is a good first touch. Kai has shown multiple times that he has a ridiculous first touch, which not only allows him to pass first time, but also allows him to bring the ball under control quickly and set up for a shot at the same time.
INTELLIGENCE AND AWARENESS
Of course, a player can have all the talent in the world but not know how to use it. Havertz is not that kind of a player. His positioning is almost always perfect and he naturally and immediately finds gaps in the defence to exploit to his advantage.
Havertz has excellent positioning which allows him to find pockets of space. From then, his ability to pick a long pass, a cross to an attacker, a through ball, or a shot with one of the variety of finishes at his disposal makes him a nightmare to deal with. Defenders simply have no idea what he is about to do next.
All this is made more dangerous thanks to his sublime first touch and close control, while using his big body to expertly shield the ball.
Havertz is the perfect example of a player whose head is constantly on a swivel, seeing where the opposition is, where his teammates are, and where should he be to help the team.
Here is a fun fact that so far we have not mentioned once. Kai Havertz has a birthday coming up tomorrow (June 11). He will turn 21 years old.
And yet, he is already playing at such a level and maturity that there is no need to hide behind phrases such as, “amazing for a player his age”, “the youngster has shown potential” etc. Those would be an insult to him.
Kai is a player who is simply amazing, not just for his age. In fact, here are some of the records he broke last season.
- With a top speed of 35.02 km/h, Havertz was the fastest midfielder in the Bundesliga last season and the second fastest player overall.
- According to Bayer’s official website, he had the best passing accuracy of any attacking player in the league. In fact, the only Bayer Leverkusen player to beat his passing accuracy was Jonathan Tah, a centre back.
- Havertz scored the opening goal in a game for Bayer nine times last season, more than any other player. In addition, his 11 goals in the second half of the season secured the lead in every game — the highest such figure in the Bundesliga in 2019. He doesn’t just score goals, he scores important goals.
Why should we splurge the cash on Kai Havertz? He is a player capable of passing, shooting, dribbling and has amazing positioning due to his intelligence. On top of that, he stands 189cm tall and was the fastest midfielder in the Bundesliga last season. A perfect blend of athletically gifted, technically gifted and mentally gifted.
All that while being only 20 years of age.
Simply put, complete players like him don’t come along often. He would prove the difference between a team winning trophies and a team just challenging for them. Chelsea would do well to match those ambitions.