Aside from Jadon Sancho, there may not be a player that seemed more destined to change clubs in the upcoming summer transfer window then Red Bull Leipzig’s Timo Werner. In fact, it could even be argued now that due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the effects it has had financially on the global football community, Werner, with a well-known release clause rumored to be in the neighborhood of £50 million, looks a much more enticing financial proposition then the reported £100 million man Jadon Sancho, and thus may actually be the more likely to move. Add in the fact that, for the past few weeks, the Bundesliga has been quite enjoying its place as the only European top 5 league available to the football craved masses, and you can understand why Werner’s name has been circulated so profusely.
So the question is, who is Timo Werner, and why is he being admired by fans everywhere and chased by the biggest clubs in world football?
Some may just be hearing and learning of Werner due to his exploits of late at RB Leipzig, but you may be surprised to know that Werner has actually been on the scene of German football for nearly seven years. A product of the VfB Stuttgart youth academy, Werner became the youngest player to ever play for Stuttgart when he made his senior debut in a Europa League qualifier during the 2013-14 season at just 17 years old (17 yr, 4 mo, 25 days to be more precise). Naturally that would not be the last record broken by Werner, as he went on to become the youngest goal scorer and youngest to score a brace for VfB Stuttgart.
Werner logged 95 Bundesliga appearances for Stuttgart between his debut in the 13/14 season to Stuttgart’s relegation at the end of the 15/16 season, scoring 13 league goals in the process. After Stuttgart’s relegation, Werner was swooped up by newly promoted and relatively unknown Red Bull Leipzig for a then club record €10 million. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since 2016, Werner has made 122 league appearances for RBL and scored 75 goals, spearheading RBL’s rise from complete unknown to the elite of German football. Warrior has garnered recognition as one of the top upcoming talents in the league and he earned a place in the German National Team.
So what makes Werner such a prolific goal scorer and one of the fastest rising talents in all of Europe? Let’s take a look:
Werner is fast, or as some commentators might say, rapid. This allows him to beat defenders or run into space or onto a flicked pass or header in behind with ease. Need an example of Werner’s pace? Just take a look at Werner’s goal scored at the weekend against Köln. Werner began as a 1-man wall at the corner of his own 18 yard box, released forward as the free kick was swung into the box and calmly claimed by Péter Gulácsi who pinged a quick kick out to Werner who was approaching the half way line. Werner was able to run onto the ball as it landed just inside the Köln half and leave the trailing Koln defenders in the dust as he raced in 1 v 1 for the goal.
You don’t score 31 goals in 40 games so far this season across all competitions and not be a high quality finisher. Bottom line: Werner knows how to put the ball in the back of the net when presented with the chance. The stats are clear that Werner is significantly more right foot dominant, with over 80% of his goals coming off of his right foot, but he is actually slightly more efficient this season with his left, scoring on 25% of his left footed shots vs. 22% of his right footed shots.
Julian Nagelsmann’s system at Red Bull Leipzig is a high intensity, quick passing system, and this has allowed Werner plenty of chances to showcase his ability to not only score a goal, but also create one, as shown by his 9 assists this season (7 league 2 UCL). Werner gets the majority of his assists due to his ability to play short, quick interchanging passes with players around him. Getting assists from short passes in and around the box is not too surprising for a forward, but add that to Werner’s ability to drop deeper and link play on the edge or just outside of the final third, or drift wide and create overloads to progress the ball forward, and Werner becomes quite the overall playmaker when compared to the majority of other traditional forwards.
Werner certainly checks the positional versatility category that Frank Lampard and may other managers love to have within their ranks. Primarily deployed as a Striker or Left Winger at Leipzig, Werner has shown the ability to adapt his game and play different positions based on how Nagelsmann sets out his team. During matches, Werner often likes to take up more of a fluid position then where he was shown on the team sheet, floating from the middle out wide, from out wide into the center, or from one wing to the complete opposite side of the pitch, all the while wreaking havoc among the opposition attempting to mark him. The fluidity of movement and ability and willingness to link play with his passing ability discussed previously, can make Werner quite a difficult player to contain.
Because of Werner’s blistering pace, he is at his best when playing in space, with room to run at or behind the opposition. While he is certainly capable of finding pockets of space and playing quick passes in and around defenders, there are some reservations about how effective he could be against the type of stubborn low block that he would certainly see if he moves to the Premier League. Whether this ability is something he does not have or just has not had to show in the Bundesliga is to be determined, but for now, it is certainly an unanswered question.
One thing that does stand out when looking into Werner’s prolific goal scoring numbers, is the fact that none of his 31 goals this season were scored with his head. In fact, despite standing 5’11” (1.81m for the Metric audience), the same height as a Roberto Firmino or Anthony Martial, Werner is just not much of an aerial threat. There may be a few reasons for this. For one, Nagelsmann’s system of quick ball movement prefers to keep the ball on the deck if at all possible, and secondly the free flowing Bundesliga certainly allows Werner to play to his strengths on the ground. One thing is clear, however, is that Werner will need to improve his abilities in the air if he hopes to replicate his success in the Premier League.
While his short passing and combination play is very good, his crossing is not. Granted, he spends most of his time out wide inverted on the left and looking to drive in and shoot, but in a different system or different league, he may be asked to at least provide the threat of a cross from wide positions, and that is something that he is still to prove that he can do on a consistent basis.
This is a bit of an interesting consideration to make with Werner. As mentioned before, under Nagelsmann, Werner has been deployed both centrally and wide of the forward line. Of late, Werner has been used alongside either Patrick Schick or Yussuf Poulsen in some variation of a 4-4-2. In Leipzig’s Champions League demolition of Spurs, Werner was deployed on the Left Wing of a 3-4-3 in both legs, with Schick playing as the #9. There are questions about what exactly Werner’s best position is, and whether or not he has the ability to play as a lone central striker, in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, or if he is more of a second striker/false 9/ winger type player. He lacks the physicality to hold the ball up in the traditional manner, and does show a tendency to be a bit overeager with his desire to run in behind, which makes him vulnerable to the offside trap.
If you are looking for a comparasion, the best that comes to mind is Anthony Martial. Quick, undersized when comparing to a Tammy or Harry Kane type, but not completely Sergio Aguero small either, can create chances with space, but relies on others when the game gets compact, and shows the ability to play centrally or wide without much variation in level. Whether they would be comparable if Werner made the move to the Premier League is to be determined, but at least looking from the outside, definite comparisons can be drawn.
One thing Werner has made abundantly clear, is that his preferred destination this summer is Liverpool. In fact, even coming from a fan base still bitter over the Courtois/Madrid saga, it is hard to remember a player so openly desperate for a move to a specific club, especially with that club unsure of their own interest level. And while it is widely known that Werner’s infatuation with Liverpool is not exactly an infatuation with the club but instead with manager Jurgen Klopp, there are still several questions that Werner’s public love affair has raised.
The first question that a potential move to Liverpool brings is about Werner’s ambition. Yes, there is the allure of playing for Klopp and on arguably the best team in Europe at the moment, but at the same time, making a big money move, a step up move, and a move to a new league at 24 years old, without a guaranteed spot in the first XI seems…a bit odd? Even with Werner’s quality, he would certainly find it difficult to break into the Liverpool front line ahead of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane who occupy his two primary preferred positions. While it could be argued that in a vacuum Werner is a more talented player then Firmino, the role that Firmino plays in that Liverpool front 3 is absolutely crucial to the success of Mo Salah and Mane, and to our knowledge, Klopp has no plans to replace Firmino anytime soon. While he would likely get a decent amount of starts and substitute appearances in late attempts to change a game, most players Werner’s age, who are in the situation that Werner is in at a Champions League club, would not be interested in making that move to become a substitute.
The second questions is the obvious one: is it even worth it? By many accounts, it is Liverpool or bust for Timo Werner, which could leave Chelsea, Manchester United and any other club pursuing his signature coming in a firm second in a one horse race. While Liverpool has time to sort out their finances and decide whether or not they want to add Werner to the ranks of a team that has run away with the league this season, Chelsea cannot afford to be strung along to only come up empty in the end and see their other targets off the market. If Chelsea do not receive positive feedback from Werner’s camp sooner rather than later, they may be best served to wave the white flag and focus on other, more attainable targets.
The verdict on Timo Werner for me is that the verdict is still out. A player of unquestionable ability that would certainly add to the squad, but one that may be out of reach for Chelsea before the race has even officially begun. What we know is Werner would definitely bring something different to Chelsea. He has the ability to be a more prolific goal scoring winger then Pulisic or CHO currently are, and to have that perfect speedy foil for the tall and commanding Tammy Abraham up top wrapped up into one player. It is not hard to imagine that is part of the allure of chasing Werner, and certainly part of the reason it is being widely reported that Chelsea are doing what they can to stay, as much as possible, in the race.
There are qualities and there are questions with most players, but for many Chelsea fans, Werner’s qualities outweigh the questions, and I think it would be a difficult task to find too many who would turn down the opportunity to bring Werner in.
After all, it was not that long ago that Chelsea and Frank Lampard were rumored to be heavily interested in one Dries Mertens of Napoli, a player of a similar, multi-positional, somewhat undersized forward profile to a Timo Werner, and if Frank Lampard had a plan for Mertens at Chelsea, he can certainly come up with a plan to get the best out of Timo Werner.
Since the writing of this article BILD: has reported that Chelsea are now in advanced talks with Timo Werner triggering his release clause.