To call the acquisition of Werner a coup would be an understatement. It is not often that a player with his goalscoring output and underlying numbers is available on the market, let alone for a fee as little as £50 million.
Liverpool’s analysts, arguably the very best in the business, rated Werner as a better purchase as compared to the likes of Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz. Taking a deeper look at his numbers and the money associated with his signing, it is easy to see why.
This article will take a look at what makes Werner a world-class forward and his unconventional playing style. His potential fit in the Chelsea team and the changes Frank Lampard may have to implement in his tactics will also be analyzed in the upcoming sections.
The story so far
While many might have only heard of Werner in the past year or two, he has been turning heads for a number of years. In fact, he broke the record for the youngest player to make 100 Bundesliga appearances at 20 years and 169 days old in 2016. Before turning 20, he already had three full seasons of professional football at Stuttgart under his belt.
His final season at the club, in particular, was a huge indicator of his potential. On a team that finished in the relegation spots, Werner put up 0.49 non-penalty xG/90 across 26 starts and 7 appearances off the bench. Under normal circumstances, these numbers would have brought inevitable links to the richest clubs on the planet. Luckily for Leipzig, he endured a terrible finishing slump which meant he was overlooked by most big clubs as a transfer target.
His first three seasons at Leipzig were a story of continuous evolution and modifications in his play style. As most would have predicted, his finishing reverted to normal in his first season at Leipzig and he ended up scoring 21 goals. The next two seasons saw the departure of coach Ralph Hasenhüttl and the temporary reign of Ralf Rangnick.
While his overall output may have dipped after his first season, Werner continued his development from a speedster to a more refined footballer. His willingness to get on the ball, in particular, improved in his second and third years at the club. His touches per 90 metric gradually grew from the low 30s to almost 40 in those three years.
However, his improvements in his first three seasons pale in comparison to the quantum leap he has taken under Julian Nagelsmann. If the first three seasons at Leipzig represented an evolution, this season has been a rip-roaring revolution. The improvement in his game under his new coach is evidently visible in the numbers, which we’ll be looking at in the next section.
He has unquestionable output and scoring pedigree.
Only two players have scored more league goals in a major European league than Werner’s 25 this season, Robert Lewandowski and Ciro Immobile. His 0.83 non-penalty goals/90 this season is the 6th highest in the top 5 leagues and is better than the likes of Aubameyang, Salah, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Skeptics have suggested that his numbers are being heavily inflated by Nagelsmann and this is a valid concern, especially due to Nagelsmann’s previous history of making players perform above their real ability levels. However, there is strong evidence that Werner has been a consistently great goalscorer. After all, he has scored 15 or more non penalty goals in 3 of his last 4 league seasons and under three different managers.
While the Bundesliga is a league that is more conducive to goalscoring than the others and Nagelsmann is a terrific attacking coach, there can be no doubts over Werner knowing where the goal is.
His expected numbers have remained stellar throughout his career. He has consistently hovered around 0.5 non-penalty xG/90 and 0.15 xA/90, both thoroughly admirable tallies in isolation. A player with average finishing skill and with teammates of average finishing skill can roughly be expected to contribute around 25 non-penalty goals + assists over the course of a league season with those underlying numbers.
This season has seen Werner notch 0.66 non-penalty xG/90, a figure that puts him second in the league behind only Lewandowski. To go with this, Werner also has 0.3 xA/90, a tally that is only 0.07 lower than Jadon Sancho’s and is 7th highest in the league.
His combined tally of 0.96 NPxG+xA/90 places him 6th overall in the top 5 leagues, bettered only by Mbappe, Neymar, Messi, Lewandowski and Di Maria. Quite some company to be in.
His ability to shoot from different locations is extremely rare to find.
Attackers who can score from the left channel, central locations and the right channel are perhaps the most valuable commodity in football. While it sounds like a rather simple thing to do, the number of players who can score from all three locations is surprisingly small. The two biggest examples of such players are Raheem Sterling and Sadio Mané.
Werner has shown the confidence and more importantly, the ability to consistently get away shots from all three channels. While the proportion of his right channel shots has slightly decreased this season, he has consistently been able to get away around 30% of his shots from the right channel despite nominally playing centrally or on the left.
The goal in the following GIF sums up this aspect of Werner’s game perfectly. While it looks relatively straightforward on paper, the right channel finish is not something that many right-footed attackers can execute successfully.
This ability to get away shots from different locations in the box makes it a tad trickier to mark him in the box and consequently, results in his teammates having greater space to operate in. Chelsea’s inability to score from the right channel has long been one of our weaker suits. With Ziyech and Werner, this should hopefully be fixed soon.
Werner’s goal map shows his confidence to shoot from the right.
Interestingly, not many of his goals have come from within the 6-yard box this season. His best work comes in the zone between the penalty spot and the edge of the 6-yard box. His ability to score from very wide locations, on either side, is something that will no doubt help us going forward.
As his shot map indicates, Werner finds himself in plenty of one on one situations. While this is partly a function of how Leipzig play, this is also a strong indicator of how he plays. In Europe’s top 5 leagues, no player has been offside more often than Werner. This is no one-off either, Werner has maintained his rate of offsides/90 throughout his career.
Werner’s high offside count may be viewed as a negative by some but it shouldn’t be. Just like how the best strikers on the planet shoot more than their peers and consequently miss more shots, Werner’s high offside tally is a reflection of the frequency with which he runs off the shoulders of defenders.
His finishing variety is absolutely superb.
Finishing variety is a highly underrated attribute for attackers. While certain outliers like Arjen Robben have mastered the art of executing one move perfectly, most top attackers require a vast repertoire of moves in order to ensure they are not bogged down by predictability.
One of the reasons why most opponent goalkeepers appear to be world-beaters against Chelsea is the lack of finishing variety in the squad. There is a serious shortage of players who can power the ball past the goalkeeper, for instance. Mason Mount is perhaps the only player who can do it on a consistent basis.
Adding players who can execute different kinds of finishes will make us a far more difficult proposition to play against. In this aspect, Chelsea cannot do much better than Werner in the market. While his favourite move this season has been the far post finish, he is also comfortable blasting the ball past the goalkeeper or rounding the goalkeeper.
One aspect where he can improve though is in his use of near post shots. His near post shots are often not accurate enough and are placed too close to the goalkeeper.
His finishing patterns this season are broadly similar to those of previous seasons and opponent goalkeepers can expect to face a devilish mix of finishes when they come up against Chelsea.
While Chelsea have a shortage of players with finishing variety in the squad, one player who breaks the norm is Christian Pulisic. While Pulisic’s finishing is not comparable to Werner’s, his finishing map is interesting regardless. The picture below shows Pulisic’s finishing variety across his career.
He is one of the most active attackers in open-play in his age group.
Werner’s ability to score and assist at world-class rates makes him a phenomenal buy as it is, but to make things even better, he is a tremendous player in general play as well. While he is helped by Leipzig’s system to an extent, his ability to get plenty of touches in open play while remaining active in and around the box is rather unique.
Werner’s basic metrics like shots, shots on targets and successful dribbles are highly encouraging. The year-on-year improvement seen points towards a player who is on a steep upward curve.
While not shown in the graph, Werner is also gradually completing more passes per 90. In his final season at Stuttgart, he completed fewer than 16 passes per 90. The number eventually rose to nearly 18 in his first two seasons at Leipzig, then to 20.2 in his third season and is now at close to 23. As mentioned before, Werner is gradually becoming more involved in his team’s possession play and is moulding himself into a more rounded player.
Looking at slightly advanced metrics, Werner stands out even more.
His ability to get touches in the box is outstanding and he has managed to supplement this by a rapidly improving ability to pass the ball accurately into the box. As common sense suggests, the more a player touches the ball in the box, the more likely he is to score.
His shot creating actions (SCA) and goal creating actions (GCA) numbers are both commendable too.
His big game performances are gradually improving.
One of the most common criticisms aimed at Werner has been his poor performances in so-called big games. While moments like his miss against Bayern Munich this season may make the criticism appear valid, it could not be further away from the truth.
His goal record against top 6 opponents has been very solid at Leipzig. While the proportion of his goals against supposed weaker opponents is indeed high, almost all strikers will have similar patterns. After all, teams don’t finish in the bottom half of the table without being inherently below-average at certain aspects of the game.
He scores plenty of meaningful goals.
Werner is not a superficial goalscorer by any means. Most of his goals carry plenty of weight, be it getting the lead, doubling the lead or scoring an equalizer.
While the proportion of goals scored by Werner when scores are level may seem a little underwhelming to some, it is important to note that Leipzig are not a team that stay at level scores for long.
Doubling the lead is a very underrated aspect of game management and should not be frowned upon. Turning an 1-0 lead to a 2-0 lead gives rise to more serenity and a chance to conserve energy.
Most strikers playing for top teams will have a healthy proportion of goals scored when their team is in a comfortable position. This is not a stick to beat Werner with.
He is an outstanding athlete and has excellent availability.
One of the most noticeable aspects about Werner is his searing pace. In fact, as unbelievable as this sounds, he once covered 100m in a ridiculous 11.1 seconds in the middle of a game. Every good team requires plenty of competent athletes and Werner brings athleticism in abundance.
Furthermore, he has exceptional stamina and mental drive. The term stamina here applies to his ability to maintain his standards and intensity both within and across games. Since 2014-15, the fewest league appearances he has made in a season is 31.
While the volume of games he has played at such a young age is a valid concern, medical science has developed to allow players to play longer. People have pointed to Fernando Torres and Michael Owen as similar pace-oriented players who started and peaked early but unlike them, Werner has managed to avoid serious injuries so far. (So far; fingers crossed, touch wood, etc.)
In his entire career, he has never missed more than 2 games in a row due to injuries. In an even more staggering statistic, he has only missed 13 games since the beginning of 2014-15 owing to physical ailments. While this would be a great feat for anyone, the fact that Werner achieved it during a phase when his body was still growing makes it even better. It is a testament to his professionalism.
His upper body strength is good but it is not among his stronger traits. There is certainly room for improvement here. Werner will do well to use Salah as an inspiration in this regard, due to the latter’s transformation from a physically weak player at Chelsea to one of the strongest forwards in the game at Liverpool.
He brings a high degree of gamesmanship.
Gamesmanship is perhaps a subjective topic, one that cannot be shown by numbers. While watching Werner, it is evidently clear that he is a player who can sell fouls intelligently. This is a trait that is sorely lacking in the current Chelsea team.
It is not a stretch to say great terms are experts at gamesmanship. The past few champions of England all have a variety of players who can sell fouls well and can execute tactical fouls when necessary — David Silva, Salah, Mané, Sterling and many more.
Chelsea’s greatest teams have had their fair share of gamesmanship as well. Eden Hazard was unparalleled at winning and selling fouls, even though he was criminally under-protected by referees. The likes of Diego Costa and Didier Drogba should require no introduction either.
This is entirely subjective, but Werner is great at selling fouls and that is great for his team!
He is not a conventional Premier League centre forward ... yet.
Werner is not a centre forward who is going to duel with opponent centre backs or pluck high balls from the sky. That, quite simply, is not his game. His best performances for Leipzig have come when playing alongside a taller centre forward who deals with centre backs physically.
Rather than receiving the ball close to the box and playing wall passes in the mould of Giroud or even Tammy Abraham, Werner drops deep or wide to receive the ball before turning and running at defences. If he is to fit into Lampard’s system as a lone centre forward, significant changes will have to be made to the way Chelsea play.
The ball will have to remain on the ground more often if Chelsea are to get the best out of Werner as a lone forward.
Furthermore, he is prone to drifting towards the wings in order to take defences by surprise. In moments like these, other attackers will have to take the responsibility to fill central locations and engage opponent centre backs.
There are two main takeaways from the heatmaps. Firstly, his improving involvement in general play is confirmed by the heat map getting more intense with every passing season.
Secondly, he has very few touches in central zones for a striker. As pointed out earlier, he takes far more touches in the left channel than in central locations. However, this is not to imply that he is a player who is going to isolate fullbacks in 1-v-1 scenarios and beat them. His game revolves around taking plenty of touches in wide areas, moving it on quickly to a teammate before making a run into the box.
He is not great aerially.
Werner’s aerial numbers do not look great in the chart depicting his basic metrics. That was no aberration and is a real indication of the way he plays. In his time at Leipzig, he has never averaged more than one successful aerial duel per 90. His success rate is nothing to write home about either.
His sub-par aerial ability can largely be traced down to a poor leap and lack of timing. This is a rather peculiar scenario, considering the fact he is a phenomenal athlete otherwise.
The dynamic between Werner and Reece James will be interesting to follow. As his goal and finishing maps show, Werner has a grand total of zero headed goals this season. While he had a stunning season in terms of headed goals in 2016-17 with 4 of them, his tally since then has been a meagre 3 across over three seasons.
If he is to be played as a centre forward, bombarding the box with crosses might not be the most optimal strategy. A more effective tactic may be the incorporation of cut-backs.
He can be streaky while scoring.
The following aspect is not necessarily a weakness, but it is something that needs to be highlighted.
Werner’s tendency to score goals in bunches may be a source of worry for some. Werner has scored bundles of goals this season in a concentrated set of games instead of spreading them across several games.
This issue was present last season as well, although his numbers might suggest otherwise. His first 12 goals came in 6 games in the form of six braces. He later went on a streak of 7 goal-scoring games with only a goal each to balance the scales.
Werner has 31 goals from 19 scoring games this season, a rate of 1.63 goals per scoring game (GPSG). Out of interest, let us compare this to a few other top strikers:
- Lewandowski has 43 goals from 29 games, or 1.48 GPSG this season.
- Vardy has 19 goals from 13 games, or 1.46 GPSG.
- Both Kylian Mbappe and Ciro Immobile have 1.42 GPSG this season.
- Tammy Abraham has 1.36 GPSG this season.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has 1.18 GPSG this season.
- Diego Costa averaged 1.1 GPSG and 1.25 GPSG in 2016-17 and 2014-15 respectively.
How does he fit in at Chelsea?
One of Werner’s biggest positives is his versatility. Finding a spot for him in the starting XI will not be a major problem considering his ability to play in several spots at a high level.
As a lone centre forward replacing Tammy Abraham
As mentioned before, if Werner is to play as a lone centre forward, significant changes will have to be made to Chelsea’s play style. Werner will also have to control his urge to move to wider areas in order to seek the ball.
Where this leaves Tammy Abraham is also a pertinent question. Tammy has undoubtedly been among our best, and most important, players this season. Dropping him would be doing his performances and development a criminal injustice.
Without trying to create a direct comparison between the two, parallels can be drawn between Werner and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford in terms of positional versatility. Like Rashford, Werner will produce at an above-average level if he is played as a lone forward. However, to get the best out of him, leaving him to deal with opponent centre backs by himself is not the smartest way to go about it.
Another option would be to use Mount as the number 10 behind Werner as a lone forward. The performances of Son Heung-Min, another speedy forward, as the sole number 9 when playing ahead of Dele Alli at Tottenham Hostpur, could potentially act as a blueprint to use Werner. The biggest examples of Son shining in this setup are Spurs’ 3-1 win against Chelsea in 2017-18 and 2-0 win against Man City in 2016-17.
Having a number 10 who specializes in off-the-ball runs results in more space for the centre forward to operate in. The consistent runs into the box from midfield act as a potential distraction for the opponent centre-backs, allowing the number 9 to utilize the space created.
This idea was utilized by Leipzig in certain games where Werner was deployed as the lone forward, with Marcel Sabitzer playing just behind him in order to open up space.
However, this idea is not a long-term solution and is suitable only for one-off games.
Along with Tammy Abraham in a two striker formation
A potential two striker formation combining Werner and Abraham would be extremely similar to what Leipzig use at present. Such a setup would reduce the burden on Werner to compete with opponent centre backs aerially, leaving Tammy to deal with them.
The fact both Werner and Abraham are comfortable running behind defences would make them a particularly dangerous and unpredictable duo. However, using a two striker formation would result in our midfield potentially getting stretched and one of Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic and Ziyech having to sit out.
If N’Golo Kanté returns to his previous levels and Lampard can convince one of his star attacking midfielders to sit out for the sake of the team, there is a lot of potential in this setup.
As a left inside forward
Alternatively, Werner could be played on the left, not as a winger but as an inside forward who focuses on making diagonal runs into the box.
While there are questions over how his 1-v-1 dribbling ability will translate from the Bundesliga to the Premier League, the fact he is a great ball carrier is not in question and this will likely translate across leagues.
The main drawback to this setup is his lack of comfort in tight spaces, unlike top wingers. While he can and will beat most opponents for sheer pace, Werner is not a player who is consistently going to beat men on the dribble. If he is crowded out by a fullback and a winger or a defensive midfielder, he is susceptible to having anonymous displays on the wings.
A particularly tasty prospect of playing Werner as an inside forward is his potential suitability to the way Ziyech plays. Ziyech’s swinging deliveries from the right channel are extremely difficult to deal with. Combine this with Werner’s tendency to make diagonal runs into the box and Chelsea might have a magical combination on our hands.
Of course, a lot will depend on how they actually gel on the pitch but the initial signs of a potential Ziyech — Werner partnership are very promising.
Werner could also be used as an inside forward in a potential 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 set-up, playing alongside Tammy Abraham and one of Ziyech, Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic. However, this would mean Lampard will have to drop two attacking midfielders and is unlikely to happen.
Chelsea have pulled off a massive transfer coup by signing Werner ahead of other big clubs. To go with his exceptional scoring output, Werner is also extremely versatile and can fit in multiple roles in multiple systems.
The sheer options and possibilities he provides are staggering and just by signing him and Ziyech, the team will go up a level or two. All evidence so far points towards Werner being a success at Stamford Bridge provided he avoids injuries.
The following is a subjective topic but this writer expects Werner’s first season at Chelsea to look like this:
- Werner will play 40-45 games next season in all competitions
- Completing around 38 full-90s
- Around 20-25 goals in all competitions (around 0.6 goals/90)
- 13-17 goals in league play
- 5-10 assists (around 0.2 assists/90)
- Werner has some of the best output among players in the top 5 leagues this season and is among the top 10 across Europe for a variety of output-related stats.
- His ability to shoot from different locations is a rare trait and is worth big money by itself.
- He can also execute a wide variety of finishes, filling a big need at Chelsea.
- He is very dangerous in open play and is rapidly improving in this aspect.
- His big game performances are also rapidly improving every season.
- He is not a player who boosts his numbers by scoring superficial goals. A large proportion of his goals are very important in the state of the game.
- He is not the best player aerially and there are minimal signs of him improving.
- Chelsea might have to fine-tune the way we play to get the best out of him.
- He has shown flashes of streakiness over the last two seasons and will do well to spread his goals across more games.
- His versatility means he can play several roles for Chelsea.
- He could be a lone forward here but it is not the best way to use him.
- Playing alongside Tammy Abraham in a two-striker formation or as an inside forward is perhaps the smartest way of getting the best out of him.