Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz is perhaps the most highly regarded German talent of a generation, and with good reason. Over the past two seasons, his composure and movement off the ball have earmarked him as the successor to Thomas Muller’s throne both domestically and internationally. But whilst Bayern Munich offers the youngster almost inevitable success both at home and abroad, this has not stopped reports of interest from across Europe taking hold. With Chelsea amongst a string of rumoured destinations for Havertz, we take a look at what he’d bring to Frank Lampard’s team.
Bayer Leverkusen are markedly similar to Chelsea in the way that they play. They switch seamlessly between three-man and four-man formations in order to protect their high press whilst maintaining a rigid defensive structure in games where they are less assured of possession. With this said Leverkusen’s tactical philosophy is understandably far more developed than Chelsea’s given the experience of Peter Bosz and his work at both Ajax and Borussia Dortmund, and as such, they are regarded as one of Europe’s most devastating counter-attacking outfits.
Havertz despite his age has already outlined himself as the fulcrum of Leverkusen’s attacks following the departure of Julian Brandt to Dortmund last summer. Whilst possessing a far from perfect first touch, it’s his intelligence in moving away from his marker that buys him time and space to offload the ball under pressure. This ability to draw the opposition in and play out of the press is central to triggering Leverkusen’s attacking transitions. Mateo Kovacic, it must be noted offers a similar set of traits, but where the Croatian often fails to follow his pass and make forward movements off the ball, Havertz’s technique and positioning ensure he always offers a goal threat between the lines.
Chelsea have consistently struggled when faced with deep defensive blocks, and whilst I made reference to Havertzs’s off the ball movement in a scenario better suited to counter-pressing teams this innate ability to anticipate space also allows the 20-year-old to drag a settled backline out of shape and create new passing lines. An xGBuildup90 of 0.4 underlines this, whilst an 87% pass completion rate shows he is able to regularly make use of the opportunities he creates for himself. Opposition defences are constantly unsure whether to engage or drop off when marking Havertz.
His deep ball progression may draw comparisons to Kovacic, but it is when Havertz presses high that he is at his most dangerous. The German is by no means a diminutive number 10, his 6’2 frame means he can easily get his body in between the man and the ball whilst an average of 1.5 completed aerial duels would see him rank eighth amongst the current Chelsea squad – comparatively, Messrs Mount and Kovacic average a combined 0.5 aerial duels per 90. Havertzs’s anticipation allows him to pinpoint exactly when to exploit spaces between the opposition backline. A swift turn of pace means once he has identified the gaps Havertz can offload the ball before latching on to the return pass in behind.
His composure in front of goal must not be taken lightly either and his movement in and around the box shows a remarkable likeness to the predatory instincts of Piere Emerick Aubameyang and Edinson Cavani. The aforementioned anticipation once again comes into play as he is routinely able to recognise when a defender is caught ball watching and thus make a late vertical run into the box. 59 of his 86 shots from last season came inside the 18-yard-box and this highlights the regularity at which Havertz is able to get into these positions. Despite not quite being able to match his incredible 17 goal haul from last season, an xG of 0.39 is markedly higher than Mount’s 0.25.
Havertz is nothing short of an incredible prospect and his ability to contribute to almost every phase of play has and will continue to redefine what is expected of a number ten. Bayern Munich are clear favourites for his signature and with priorities elsewhere, Chelsea fans would be well advised to temper their expectations. Regardless of its improbability, however, there is no doubting the effect Havertz would have were he to make the move to West London.