Chelsea links with Kai Havertz have intensified in the past days, with reports now suggesting the Blues are determined to beat Bayern to bring him to West London. Tobi Promise sets out his case as to why Chelsea should NOT acquire Bayer Leverkusen’s man this summer.
Chelsea have been fond of signing system players with little long-term vision in the transfer market in recent years. This happens because the revolving door of Chelsea managers provide a direct challenge to long-term strategy in the modern transfer market.
This effect is exemplified by the signing of N’golo Kante – brought in by Antonio Conte to partner with Nemanja Matic in his double pivot. This was an initial success, but as after Conte departed Maurizio Sarri preferred a lone, technical defensive midfielder – requiring something different from the mobile, intercepting attributes of Kante. This was catered for by bringing in Jorginho – and moving Kante to an advanced midfield position as a consequence.
Kante played fairly well in this position under Sarri. However in Lampard’s system, which is fast-paced and expectant of midfielders contributing in the attacking phase, he has struggled for performance. The product of this is that the long-term future of both Jorginho and Kante has been passionately debated by Chelsea fans.
Marcos Alonso and Davide Zappacosta are other examples of recent system signings which did not seem to have a long-term future at the club after the relevant manager left.
The latest name which seems to fit into that category is Bayer Leverkusen’s talented youngster Kai Havertz.
Lampard, stemming from his Derby County days, loves to set-up a midfield that comprises of a central defensive midfielder and two mobile advanced midfielders who will contribute to both attacking and defensive phases – in effect a double eight. These two advanced midfielders are expected to run and dominate the midfield while the defensive midfielder will be expected to provide protection for the centre backs and cover against counter-attacks during the attacking phase.
It is clear that the defensive midfielder will not directly assist the two eights in the midfield battle. Hence, great physicality is required from the central midfielders to hold their ground, bully opponents off the ball and cope with transitional play.
Kai Havertz appears to possess every technical skill needed for the attacking phase, but his box-to-box and transitional play is lacking. Given the use of aggressive full-backs, the double eights are expected to help the three men behind – the centre halves and defensive midfielder – which is only achievable with significant stamina and work rate – which Havertz does not possess.
Havertz had been quoted saying his best position is as an eight, but one must bear in mind the difference between Frank Lampard and Peter Bosz’s tactical styles . Bosz sets up in a 3-2-2-3 shape with two defensive midfielders behind his double eights – with the wingers effectively acting as less advanced wide midfielders.
In this tactic, the advanced eights are primarily central attackers – combining with the striker in the centre, getting into the box with wingers dominating in the wide areas. This is markedly different from Lampard – where the wingers are required to be in the box, fullbacks covering wide areas and the three midfielders holding their position.
Similarities can be drawn to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool – and there is no way a Havertz will survive in this kind of tactic in the number eight position.
I will add that Lampard has been flexible with his tactics – employing the 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1 and 3-4-3 on occasion at Chelsea. However, he has most often used the 4-2-3-1 as his backup formation – but Havertz would be in direct competition with Barkley, Mount, Pulisic & Ziyech to play as the attacking midfielder in this system.
This begs the question: why would Chelsea bring in someone similar in the same position for a fee of around £80m?
In terms of quality, it is hard to argue against Havertz being one of the best youngsters in Europe. However, this must be the time for Chelsea to stop signing players just because they might fit into a specific system. The effect of this practice is negative on the club – who need to prioritise choosing their path to success and optimising their business in the transfer market. Quality is of paramount importance in football; but signing appropriate players is a requirement in the club’s pursuit of long-term success.