Thomas Tuchel faces several challenges in his new job as Chelsea manager, some larger than others. One of the biggest ones is trying to get Timo Werner firing again, both literally in front of goal, and figuratively in general play.
The man who’s led Chelsea in scoring for just about the entire first half of the season — before Tammy Abraham’s hat trick in the FA Cup vaulted him to the top of the Chelsea scoring charts — has endured a massive scoring drought and perhaps an even more massive confidence drought ever since his solid start to the campaign following his big-money move in the summer from RB Leipzig to Chelsea.
Frank Lampard went to great lengths to emphasize that Werner hasn’t become a terrible player overnight despite his near-Torresian foibles, but things clearly aren’t happening for him as well as anyone would like these days. Like Lampard, Tuchel chalks that up to confidence — that magic word — and thus that’s the first thing he’s hoping to help rediscover and rebuild with Werner.
“I see his face is a bit closed and the weight is on his shoulders. He cares a lot and that shows he has a fantastic character. Sometimes as a striker, it does not help if you care a lot. Sometimes as a striker, it’s better to not care at all. But he’s not that guy. He cares and he’s not happy with himself and with the way things went lately.
“Right now it’s important to rebuild his trust in himself and to find a smile on his face and stop doubting too much. It’s my job to do this, to help him with this and then to find also a position where we can use his strengths.”
It’s a good thing Abraham’s wearing the No.9 shirt, otherwise we’d be sitting here talking about another crisis of confidence in that infamous Blue number. But unfortunately, as Álvaro Morata proved a few years ago, a different number on the back isn’t necessarily a solution either.
In fairness to Werner, he’s not shied away from the ball on the pitch and has kept grafting and even collecting a few assists. But it’s goals he craves and goals he needs to get out of his slump.
Lampard tried to force him through it, hoping that by repeated appearances, he would eventually play himself back into form. Tuchel’s taking a more strategic approach, which is one of the reasons we didn’t see Werner at all on Wednesday, against an extremely deep-sitting and compact Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“On Wednesday we had 80 per cent ball possession and it felt like we played 90% of the match in the last 30 metres. But there are movements to create with him that he can help us, I am sure.
“From his profile, as a given, I would say he prefers to have space. That’s clear because he’s super fast and he likes to play in the last line, very very very high up, but a little bit more to the left, half open to the goal and to receive the balls into the open space. This is a given.
“Can we develop movements, patterns, behaviour to use his quality in narrow spaces? That’s my job and I’m absolutely convinced [we can] because the guy is open, the guy is friendly and the guy is eager to learn.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Goal
One of Werner’s former coaches, Ralph Hasenüttl recently commented that the way to get the best out of Werner is to essentially build a team and tactics around his ridiculous speed and generally excellent finishing. Another one of Werner’s former coaches, Julian Nagelsmann also commented at the start of the season about how Werner is best utilized when there are spaces to exploit rather than compact defenses to break down. Tuchel seems to share the opinion of his Bundesliga coaching compatriots — and fellow Chelsea managerial targets.
Unfortunately, spaces are not easy to come by in the Premier League. Wolves are perhaps the most resolutely dour and negative teams in the league, but it’s not like our upcoming opposition, Burnley, are going to push up and play a high line on Sunday. So we’ll have to create the space(s) for Werner, which is precisely what Tuchel is assigning himself as a task going forward.
As with just about anything Tuchel has said since his arrival on Tuesday, these are the right words and the right intentions. Can we see them in action, too? We’ll find out soon enough.