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Tuchel sees ‘a bit’ of Bergkamp, Van Persie, Berbatov in Kai Havertz

Fluid fantastic

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - Barcelona v Arsenal - Stade de France Photo by Martin Rickett - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

After nearly two years, we seem to have finally figured out the best role for Kai Havertz. He’s been tried on the wing, in the middle, even as a central midfielder. But under Thomas Tuchel, he’s slowly settled into a (center) forward role — though certainly not as a conventional No.9 in the mold of a target man (say, Olivier Giroud) nor a complete striker (say, Didier Drogba, or as he claims, Romelu Lukaku).

But it’s precisely that fluidity and freedom that makes him such a good fit for the position, and what makes the position such a good fit for the system. We’ve tried to make a more direct system work with Lukaku as the spearhead, but that remains a change of pace rather than our primary approach.

Classic football terminology has a hard time describing Havertz’s role. It’s not really a false-nine. It’s certainly not a classic-nine. It’s not a completely free role either, like a Thomas Müller-esque “raumdeuter” (“space explorer”) would be. Tuchel cites a few legends of the game to help describe it instead.

“I see a bit of Dennis Bergkamp, Robin Van Persie, [Dimitar] Berbatov kind of player. He can play in the half position because he has good runs, but also feels free from the nine and creates overload to one side.”

-Thomas Tuchel; source: NBC Sports via Sportbible

Havertz certainly has the tall languid style (and skills) of Berbatov and the leggy precision of a Van Persie (if not quite the goal-scoring record). Incidentally, Van Persie also underwent a similar role change upon his arrival in the Premier League, to obvious great effect. And it’s quite apt that Bergkamp is the first name to pop into Tuchel’s brain, with Havertz scoring a rather Bergkamp-esque (yes, THAT one) goal against Newcastle just the other day!

In any case, Tuchel’s comments come from a short segment he did for NBC Sports, entertaining former Chelsea player and manager Glenn Hoddle at Cobham. The video certainly could be longer and feature a lot less of Hoddle listening to himself talk and interrupt, but it’s still a cool watch (though it might be geolocked). Tuchel talks a bit about the three-back system and the various players and tweaks that make it work for us.