It’s that time of the year again. September has come around quicker than we all expected – albeit in wildly unprecedented circumstances, with a shortened Premier League calendar and extended summer transfer window – and Chelsea fans across the world eagerly tuned in for the team’s first fixture, a 3-1 away win against Brighton at the Amex. Frank Lampard made it clear to supporters and the media alike this game was played under exceptional circumstances and will not reflect the forthcoming season, in terms of both performance and personnel.
“We only had a few days, so I didn’t expect the kind of football we want to play … We’ve had a lot of quarantines, a lot of players who aren’t match fit … There’s a lot of strain on these players and hopefully we’ll get better and better”.
Frank will take lessons from this game – for example debutant Timo Werners electric runs into the channel, and a mature and authoritative showing from Kurt Zouma – but also be mindful of the limitations surrounding fitness and the availability of his players currently, as is the case for many if not all Premier League sides.
Such limitations undoubtedly concerned Ruben Loftus-Cheek, playing centrally in the Number 10 role of a 4-2-3-1 set up, often looking jaded and slow off the mark, and misplacing what would’ve been a decisive through ball to Timo Werner in the 41st minute. Mason Mount played on the left of the attacking 3 midfielders, playing 90 minutes with 33 accurate passes and 2 key passes, but was unable to fully influence the game as he often did last season in a Number 8 midfield role. A backline including Kepa, Marcos Alonso and Andreas Christensen will be rotated once Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell reach match fitness, and Edouard Mendy’s allegedly imminent move from Rennes is finalized. Jorginho may also find his match time restricted now Mateo Kovacic’s one-match suspension has been spent.
But all eyes were on one man in particular. The 6”2 German, Kai Havertz, was confirmed as the gleaming summer arrival from Bayer Leverkusen on 4th September, for a very reasonable initial fee of £62m – further illustrating the financial and negotiating shrewdness of Director Marina Granovskaia in bargaining deals for much less than initially quoted. A highly sought after prospect – just 21 years old and the youngest ever player to reach 100 Bundesliga appearances (with 36 senior goals), and runner up of German footballer of the year in 2019 – Havertz rejected interest from Real Madrid, and refused to wait for Bayern Munich – to become a central foreman in Frank Lampard’s young, continental attack. Starting on the right of the attacking 3, a position he often played for Leverkusen, Havertz made 24 out of 27 passes, including 1 key pass, in 80 minutes. However, given Lampard’s comments regarding fitness, with this particularly applicable to Havertz, having only trained with Chelsea for one week, it is important not to take these statistics out of context, and expect a £60m+ performance from day one.
Kai was given shirt number 29, the number he has donned since his Leverkusen debut in 2016. This number has been worn by 11 other Chelsea players, but this article will look at the 6 players who have worn it since 2000 and rate them out of 10 (specifically based on their performances in number 29). With much talk over the Number 9 shirt being “cursed” for the Blues (just think Higuain, Falcao, and the bizarre Steve Sidwell and Khalid Boulahrouz), how does number 29 fare for our new German attacker?
Robert Huth (2001/02 to 2005/06)
Premier League winner at both Chelsea and Leicester City (a member of the prestigious group of 11 players to win the Premier League with 2 different clubs), 6”3 centre-back, and fellow German, Robert Huth was the first to have worn the number 29 shirt for Chelsea in the 21st century. In his first season with the shirt, Huth was only 17, and made one sole appearance in the final game of the season, a substitute for Jesper Gronkjaer in a 1-3 defeat to Aston Villa. Huth made 41 appearances for Chelsea in the following 4 seasons – as the Blues won their first ever Premier League in 2005, and again in 2006. However, Huth was scuppered by injuries, particularly in 2004-05, and regarded as below John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and William Gallas in the defensive pecking order by both managers Claudio Ranieiri and Jose Mourinho, collecting a personal best of 16 appearances in the 2003-04 season. Despite the sparsity of football played and any iconic moments, Huth picked up two Premier League winners medals, and earned the club £6m when he moved to Middlesbrough in 2006, where he donned the number 14 shirt.
Rating – 5/10
Demba Ba (2012/13)
A 5 year wait followed before the number 29 was again worn in Chelsea blue, and this time with a positional change from one end of the pitch to the other. Demba Ba wore number 29 in his first 6 months with the club, before opting for number 19 in the 2013/14 season. A January arrival from Newcastle United for £7m, Ba became the first ever Senegelase player to join Chelsea. In his first 6 months, Ba made 14 Premier League appearances, including 3 off the bench, and scored twice. However, Ba particularly shone in the FA Cup, with 4 goals in 6 appearances. This included a memorable strike from a Juan Mata cross vs. Manchester United, booking Chelsea a place in that season’s semi final, as well as a brace vs Southampton in a 5-1 win in the third round. Ba provided depth for Fernando Torres, as well as Samuel Eto’o who arrived in the summer and took number 29, after which Ba scored a further 8 goals in 29 games wearing number 19. An £8m departure to Besiktas in the summer of 2014 represented an astute profit on a stop-gap striker.
Rating – 6/10
Samuel Eto’o (2013/14)
Samuel Eto’o joined late in the summer 2013 transfer window from Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala (who also sold Willian to the Blues 4 days prior), and represented the need for experience, winning pedigree and squad depth in supplementing Ba and Torres as the only senior strikers in the squad at the time. Eto’o had previously worked with Mourinho at Inter during the treble winning season of 2009/10, and joined Chelsea having won 2 Champions Leagues, 4 League Titles, and 4 African Player of the Year accolades. During his time at Stamford Bridge, Eto’o scored 9 goals in 21 Premier League games, averaging 0.43 goals a game, a decent turnover for a then 32 year old. Eto’o also scored 3 goals in 9 Champions League outings, including 2 goals v Schalke in the Group Stage, and the opener v Galatasaray in the Round of 16. In just one year with Chelsea, Eto’o’s stay was peppered with iconic moments and crucial goals. A hat-trick v Manchester United on his first league start spawned the famous photograph celebrating with ball boy Callum Hudson-Odoi. Eto’o also scored his 300th club career goal in a 4-0 win over rivals Tottenham Hotspur. In the summer of 2014, Chelsea’s attacking line was reinvented, with Diego Costa, Loic Remy and Didier Drogba (re)joining, as Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku, and Demba Ba made way. Eto’o remained in the Premier League with a move to Everton, where he was fondly received by Chelsea fans, despite scoring against the Blues in a chaotic 3-6 win at Goodison Park.
Rating – 7/10
Nathaniel Chalobah (2016/17)
Czech centre-back Tomas Kalas was technically the holder of number 29 in the 2014/15 title winning season, but spent the year on loan in Germany with FC Koln, where he did not make a senior appearance. Nathaniel Chalobah, a Chelsea player since the age of 11, and versatile in both defence and midfield, rejoined the club in 2016 after a loan spell with Napoli, subsequent to loans to Watford, Nottingham Forest, Burnley and Reading since 2012, amassing 9 goals in 78 games. New coach Antonio Conte was pleased by his performances in training and decided to involve him in the first team for the forthcoming season – rejecting interest from Sevilla and Leicester amongst others, and giving him the number 29. Chalobah only featured sporadically – with Conte preferring a midfield 2 of new signing N’golo Kante alongside Nemanja Matic, with Cesc Fabregas often rotating in for a different dynamic setup. Chalobah made just 10 league appearances, with a further 3 in the FA Cup and 2 in the League Cup; his most memorable moment for Chelsea being a skillful backheel assist for Victor Moses in a 3-0 home win v Leicester, early in the journey towards Chelsea’s 5th Premier League trophy. The following summer Chalobah ended 12 years at the club by joining Watford, whom he played for 38 times, scoring 5 goals in 2012/13, for a deal worth roughly £5.5m.
Rating – 4/10
Alvaro Morata (2018/19)
Spanish striker Alvaro Morata joined Chelsea in the summer of 2018 for a fee of roughly £60m, and spent his first full season in London with the number 9 shirt, famously worn by fellow countryman Fernado Torres in his 4 years with the club. In his first season, Morata scored 15 goals in 48 games in all competitions, with 11 in the Premier League, including strikes v Manchester United and Tottenham, and v Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Despite this, Morata’s form was heavily concentrated into the first half of the season, with just 4 goals coming after Christmas Day, and glaring misses in an infamous performance away at Arsenal in a 2-2 draw in January signalling a slide in both confidence and goalscoring. The following season he took on the number 29 shirt, aiming to at least emulate the form of Ba and Eto’o before him. A goal vs Arsenal in a 3-2 win in August seemed to suggest a revival; however, Morata cut a frustrated figure lacking in confidence, with new manager Maurizio Sarri preferring Olivier Giroud for Europa League games, and occasionally Eden Hazard as a false nine. Morata scored 9 goals in 24 games in all competitions, with 5 in the Premier League, before returning to Spain with an initial loan move to Atletico Madrid in January 2019. This summer, the deal was made permanent for roughly £58m, again demonstrating the negotiating skills of Marina, to partially fund big money moves for Havertz and others. A player who never looked fully at home in London, he has scored 18 in 49 for Atletico, and left his mark on club history with both the 9 and 29 shirt numbers in underwhelming form, despite early and occasional flashes of brilliance.
Rating – 4/10
Fikayo Tomori (2019/20)
The 2019/20 season, with a transfer ban forcing new manager Frank Lampard to incorporate a host of young players at the club, saw the number 29 return to the centre back position. Fikayo Tomori had been at Chelsea since the age of 8, and impressed under Lampard during a loan spell at Derby County, narrowly avoiding promotion, and featuring 44 times. The departure of David Luiz late in the summer window to London rivals Arsenal, as well as ex-captain Gary Cahill leaving on a free, gifted Tomori with a place in the squad to compete for the centre back position. He got off to a brilliant start, scoring with his first ever shot in the Premier League, a beautiful curling effort away v Wolves in a 2-5 thrashing which won Chelsea’s goal of the year. He also scored against former side Hull City in 1-2 FA Cup win, a competition which Chelsea reached the final for the 3rd time in 4 years. Pre-January, Tomori formed a strong partnership with centre back Kurt Zouma, winning 7 games in all competitions in a row, including an inspiring 0-1 win away v Ajax in the Champions League group stage. However, Tomori later found minutes hard to come by with more senior centre back Antonio Rudiger returning to fitness, and Lampard experimenting and alternating between a back 3 and back 4 defensive setup. In fact, Tomori did not play any competitive minutes post lockdown in “Project Restart”, his last involvement coming in a 2-2 draw v Bournemouth on 29 February – due to a mixture of recurring injuries and perhaps a lack of confidence from Lampard in crucial games. With the arrival of the very experienced Thiago Silva to aid Chelsea’s often unbalanced and sometimes orderless defence, conceding 54 goals last season, the most in the top 10, Tomori, still only 22, has been linked with a loan move away, including recently to Ligue 1 side Rennes as a chip in the aforementioned deal for goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. However, ahead of the new season, he has been given the number 14 shirt, indicating a future in the short-term for the promising Canadian born centre back.
Rating – 7/10
Therefore, Kai Havertz dons the number 29 shirt with a mixed history. Fans would love to see him score iconic goals v rivals like Eto’o and, to a lesser extent, Morata did. They would love for him to win Premier Leagues like Robert Huth did, and provide a youthful, fresh presence like Tomori did last season. However, for the highly rated 21 year old German, the future is in his hands alone, and he will be ravenous to begin his own legacy in his favourite shirt number at Stamford Bridge.