When he is not suffering as an Arsenal fan, Marius Fischer (@gegenpressing91) is an expert on all things Bundesliga and Die Mannschaft. That’s not all though – he’s an accomplished youth football coach and even finds time to do impressive data visualisation work showcasing the stats, figures and numbers for some of the Bundesliga’s best and brightest talents, most exciting teams and most interesting managers. If all of that wasn’t enough, he also works full time as a football editor for the Philippka Sportverlag in Germany.
I took some time to talk to him about Chelsea’s chequered history with German players, what we can expect from Timo Werner once he rocks up at SW6 shortly, and which other Bundesliga players Chelsea and other Premier League clubs should be targeting in the upcoming transfer window.
Rob: Hi Marius, great to talk to you. I want to start off by discussing one of my favourite players, Michael Ballack. I think he’s the best free transfer in Premier League history, considering the quality and experience that he brought to the Blues.
Marius: I think Michael Ballack is one of the most underrated German players of all time. He had great success for the national team, at a time when Germany didn’t win anything internationally. He was the captain and the best player for Die Mannschaft.
Rob: I would agree. How important do you think he was in establishing the winning mentality of Chelsea’s dominant team of the mid-to-late 2000s?
Marius: His mentality was a good fit into the Mourinho style. You look at the Mourinho team at Chelsea: Cech, Drogba, Lampard, Terry, Ballack – all players with strong mentalities and Jose relies on strong mentalities. Ballack was quite good at projecting a positive mentality, he never moaned, he wasn’t selfish, he was a ‘pass-first guy’. Of course, he was also a good goalscorer, and had big shot, he could score from anywhere.
Rob: A genuine midfield player that could do almost anything in the role.
Marius: Exactly. You talk about his winning mentality and you can see that through the number of goals he scored in the last 5-10 minutes of matches. You look at that game against Barcelona in 2009, Ballack was shouting at the referee, he felt the win was being taken away from him. It’s that winning mentality – something I think Germany missed at the last World Cup. Let’s be honest, Ballack was not an Ozil or a Kroos, not a flashy player. But I am amazed he is never is the discussion for the all time best German player; his numbers were not as good as Lampard, but he was so reliable. He rarely made any mistakes and you always know what you’d get. Perhaps the current German national team are better technically than Ballack, but his mentality would make him fit into any team.
Rob: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with Ballack and I feel Chelsea have missed his leadership (among others) since he left the club. Moving onto a German player who didn’t necessarily hit the heights of Ballack: Your thoughts on Andre Schürrle?
Marius: It’s difficult to judge Andre Schürrle. It’s quite a bit of a mystery. He really had his breakthrough season with Mainz under Thomas Tuchel; he was called the ‘Rock and Roll guys’ with Lewis Holtby and Adam Szalai. But how many good seasons did he actually have? Well besides the good season at Mainz, you look at the players now: Schürrle plays in Russia, Holtby plays for Blackburn in the Championship and Szalai hasn’t played a big role in the Bundesliga for 5 or 6 years.
Rob: Did Schürrle peak too early then?
Marius: He’ll always have that assist in the World Cup final, like Götze will always have his goal and he’ll always be remembered for it. But, the below-average seasons stand out against the 2 or 3 good seasons when he played over his limit. Schürrle has good pace, a good shout and is quite a good passer, but he is not an exceptional player.
Rob: So, it sounds like the comments about peaking too early is fair?
Marius: I’m not sure if the Russian Premier League is his standard, he could play a role in a team like Newcastle. But the transfer to Chelsea was a failure in my view, and the transfer to Dortmund was a bigger failure because they paid €30m for 2 or 3 worse seasons. It’s a pity because I like him. He’s a good guy, he seems intelligent, but I just don’t think he is one of those highly talented players. A good player who was hyped due to good years and a World Cup. Ironically, his record for the national team is quite good – he has 22 goals in 57 appearances!
I will say, there was a sequence at Dortmund when Reus, Schürrle and Götze played together for 7 or 8 games and looked very good. But as you know, Reus can’t stay fit and Götze has been erratic so they couldn’t do it on a consistent basis. Schürrle is still only 29 so not too old to make a mark again. But it does feel like his career is heading downwards, maybe after his payday in Russia, he can have one more transfer to another European league.
Rob: Harsh, but probably fair. If Schürrle was a disappointment, how do you sum up Marko Marin? Why did he never fulfil his potential?
Marius: In the case of Marko Marin, it’s more like a highly talented player who failed to develop. In these cases, it’s always hard to say where the problem lies. He had great technique, he was called the German Messi for a reason. He’s the same height and very agile, quick off the mark. But even in his best years, he was always missing the end product.
Rob: And this is partly why?
Marius: Yes because if you don’t score goals, you don’t provide assists, you quickly get criticised for not performing. Marin also isn’t physically storng, he got muscled out a lot in the Bundesliga. Perhaps you can also say his mentality was the best at this time. There are interviews with former coaches and teammates who say Marin was talented, but didn’t work hard enough. And if you only have one of those things, you don’t make it at the top level.
Marin hasn’t had a bad career: he’s been at Chelsea, Olympiakos, Red Star Belgrade so you couldn’t call him a total failure. The Premier League and Chelsea was not the right fit; even now you see not many players with his height and body perform in the Premier League. You have to be really above average to do it. Marin was always great on the ball, but he never really broke through into the National team set-up too.
Rob: It’s interesting to hear you speak about Marin’s attitude, which people did suspect might of played a part in his lack of minutes at Chelsea. Moving on from past players to future players: you thoughts on Timo Werner coming to Chelsea – A good signing?
Marius: It’s a great signing if it works out. I’m not really sure it’s been finalised yet but it seems like it will soon [update: it is now!]. I’m a little surprised he wants a transfer as I don’t think there are many teams better than RB Leipzig at the moment. He’s one of the best strikers in Europe, lightning fast and can score with both feet.
Rob: What do you think is his best position or role? Do you think Frank Lampard might change his system to accommodate Werner?
Marius: I think his best position is up front, in the middle, but not as a lone striker. He’s best in a system with two strikers, with maybe a target man on his side – at Leipzig he has Schick and Poulsen- who can feed him headers and passes. He can drift to the left, drop deep to get loose balls, he can’t do that in a lone striker system.
As for Chelsea, Werner could play next to Abraham but I don’t think that’s an ideal partnership, as although Abraham is a big guy, he is not the best target man. The ideal would be a Drogba-Werner partnership!
But, no matter what system you play Timo Werner in, he’s a 20-goal striker, for a long time to come. He’s a great signing for any team.
Rob: As an Arsenal fan, you must be thrilled seeing Chelsea linked and signing all these young German talents! The next name is someone I know you’ve spoken about before, and no doubt heard a lot about, Kai Havertz. Best young German talent in the Bundesliga?
Marius: I’m not really a fan of hyping young players, as it is not good for them. However, it’s undeniable that Havertz is a generational talent in the same league as Jadon Sancho. Maybe he’s a step below Mbappe but at 21 now, he’s world class and ready for the next step. Bayer Leverkusen are a great team, but Kai Havertz is ready to move on. He’s arguably too good for them already. He has a great left foot, can score goals with his head, which is something very few playmakers can do. He really wants to score goals too.
Rob: It sounds like Havertz is ready to leave Bayer Leverkusen behind. Should that next step be to England and Chelsea, or Germany and Bayern Munich?
Marius: If I am honest, I think Bayern Munich might be his final destination. I don’t think they’ll miss out on him in the long term. They don’t usually miss out on German talents – arguably Timo Werner could be the first one in a generation. And I think Havertz is one step above Timo Werner, as the most talented German player in the Bundesliga.
Muller is getting older, Lewandowski is getting older. Havertz’s strength is that he can play as a No. 8, a No. 10, as a winger, a deep-lying playmaker, a striker. He can cover every position offensively. I would say that I am not sure how his price tag will work out as not many teams can pay his price.
Rob: I’ll stop asking about German talents and move onto one of our own for now. Andreas Christensen thrived on loan at Gladbach in the Bundesliga, whereas Ampadu has struggled for game time at Leipzig. What’s been different in this case.
Marius: Admittedly, I’ve only watched Ampadu play one game for Leipzig and he played great! But I think it’s just the quality that Leipzig have in defence that means he can’t break through: Mukiele, Upamecano, Klostermann, Konate, Halstenberg.
He will have a learned a lot even when he isn’t playing as Nagelsmann is a good coach. Based on what I’ve seen, I think outside of Bayern, Dortmund, Leipzig and Leverkusen, Ampadu would start for every Bundesliga team. He’s great at breaking the lines, quick, he doesn’t make many mistakes. A good tackler too. He’s not the strongest player, but I could see him playing as a defensive midfielder.
Rob: I have to agree again. So, less of the player struggling, and more Leipzig just having quality in abundance?
Marius: Yes, Nagelsmann has his bunch of players he trusts in defense and it’s hard to break in that rotation.
Rob: On the topic of centre-backs. I know as an Arsenal fan, you probably see plenty of debates about your defenders and Chelsea fans have been the same this year. Antonio Rüdiger: Strengths, weaknesses and good enough to start for a Premier League title-challenging team?
Marius: Again, it’s really difficult, because I like Rüdiger’s game. After all, Leicester were Champions with a veteran Robert Huth so I think Rüdiger could be good enough!
I’m not sure what is missing. I just know he is missing a little thing to be really seen as a world class defender. He’s fast, good in the air, he was in the top 5 for aerial duels. I work as a coach and if I am honest, Rüdiger is not a player I trust 100%. He has 1 or 2 mistakes in him.
Rob: Can you elaborate a little on what you mean by this?
Marius: He’s not like Mustafi who had am mistake in him every 2 to 3 games, but I think it’s very important for defneders to have this aura around them. You see it with Virgil Van Dijk, with Ramos: “you can’t dribble past me.” You can’t learn it and you ned to earn it. I’m afraid Rüdiger is missing it.
If I was an opposition player and I saw Rüdiger, I wouldn’t get the shivers and be afraid. He has all the qualities to be a good defender, but is just missing something, that players like Varane, Ramos, Van Dijk have. Even Hummels at Dortmund has it.
I think from a coaching perspective, Rüdiger is better in 9 out of 10 categories than Hummels, but Hummels is just Hummels. For Rüdiger, the calmness is missing, he just panics compared to other players. Tomori is similar to me, he has great potential but lacks that presence and calmness.
Rob: So who would you partner him up with at Chelsea?
Marius: I would say probably Andreas Christensen. He has that calmness and I think playing in the Bundesliga has helped him get calm because teams like a play out from the back and press high, so you can learn how to resist the press. It’s the same as Jannik Vestergaard, I am not sure he is an elite defender, but he has this calmness. I’d trust Christensen more than Rüdiger in the build-up play, but Christensen is obviously less physical than Rüdiger.
Rob: It’s interesting to hear that from you, from both a rival fan and a coaching perspective. My final question: 3 transfer suggestions from the Bundesliga either for Chelsea or other Premier League clubs?
Marius: For Chelsea, I think it would be worth looking at Milot Rashica from Werder Bremen. He could be the ‘budget Timo Werner’ in the right team and perform the same kind of numbers. I did a visualisation on the player and was impressed. He can score from 25-30 metres on his left and right feet, he is lightning quick and can play on both wings.
In the right team, Rashica could be a 15-goal-minimum striker for a Premier League club. I was a little surprised when I did his goal map, as he has 12 or 13 goals even when he hasn’t played much due to injury, and of course, Werder have been playing poorly. Despite this, he still is getting his goals. I think Rashica is a finished article and would be a good fit.
Rob: I know Rashica was considered a bigger talent than Marco Van Ginkel at Vitesse Arnhem. Your next name?
Marius: This is not really a name under the radar, but it’s Florian Neuhaus from Gladbach. I really like him. He’s very calm, he rarely loses the ball, has tremendous passing accuracy and he’s adding goals to his game.
I don’t think he is a player who will get 10+ goals and assists, but he’s integral to build-up play, a bit like Toni Kroos. He looks a little skinny, but he knows how to use his body well. Don’t underestimate his physique, he could certainly play in the Premier League for any team in the next two years, maybe even Manchester City.
I’d say he’s similar to Gündoğan. Neuhaus is reliable, rarely makes mistakes and is getting better all the time under Marco Rose. As a defensive midfielder, he has a great future ahead of him and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his chance with the national team.
Rob: Or before Bayern Munich decide to hoover him up like they did with Mickaël Cuisance. Your final suggestion?
Marius: My final name is a real wildcard, Kevin Stöger from Fortuna Dusseldorf. He’d be great for most mid-table Premier League teams. Stöger was a big surprise last season, he wasn’t really a starter for the first 10 games. He got a chance and started producing magnificent numbers, over 100 touches per game and getting goals and assists.
He’s a bit like Neuhaus, a little older though. He plays for the Austrian national team, is great at set pieces and has a very high footballing IQ. He’s expected to leave on a free transfer when his contract expires this summer, so it’ll be interesting to see where he goes. He could be very good for a mid-table team.
Rob: A name I am not very familiar with, but he looks like a very solid player, a bit like Pascal Groß who did so well for Ingolstadt before joining Brighton. Thanks for your time and insights, Marius.