Timo Werner was the headline signing in Chelsea’s $300 million offseason spending spree, a player whose pace and composure in front of goal would supposedly help transform the team into a Premier League title contender.
So how has it got to the point where, four months into his time in London, the Germany international has endured his longest scoring drought in nearly five years, is no closer to finding his best role in the team, and was the third and final striker called upon by manager Frank Lampard in a desperate bid to break the deadlock in Chelsea’s most recent game?
Werner’s brief appearance as a substitute in the 1-0 win over Fulham on Saturday was a snapshot into the problems of a player who looks bereft of confidence midway through his first season in English soccer.
With Chelsea toiling at 0-0 against opponents down to 10 men at Craven Cottage, Werner was finally sent on as a substitute in the 75th minute. By then, Lampard, who started Olivier Giroud as the sole striker, had already brought on another striker in Tammy Abraham.
Werner played like someone with one goal to his name in the last two months for club and country, particularly when he was played through on goal deep in injury time and handed the perfect chance to add a second goal for Chelsea. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Werner opened up his body and sent his finish wide.
His body language, after that miss and moments later after the final whistle, spoke of an unhappy player, and he was consoled by Lampard as the teams left the field.
“Being hard on himself isn’t a problem. I hope he feels my support,” Lampard said. “The only way through a patch where things aren’t quite going for you is to train and train, keep your attitude right, stay positive.”
That must be hard for Werner. Since Nov. 14, the only goal he has scored in all competitions for Chelsea was a tap-in against fourth-division club Morecambe in a third-round match in the FA Cup. That came on Jan. 10 and ended his longest scoring drought - 13 games - since the end of the 2015-16 season, his final weeks at Stuttgart before he joined Leipzig.
In four seasons at Leipzig, he never went more than five games without scoring and netted 35 times for club and country in the 2019-20 campaign, his last at the club.
While Werner chiefly operated as a sole striker at Leipzig with the license to drift out wide or to drop into the No. 10 position, he has mostly been used on the left wing since his move to Chelsea for $68 million as Lampard dealt with injury issues to his wide midfielders. He has looked lost out wide in some matches, unable to use his pace against opponents often set up in a deep block against Chelsea.
It’s no surprise that Werner’s best display of the season was at home against Southampton, when Werner played as a central striker and made the most of the high line to score two well-taken individual goals and set up another for Kai Havertz, another German who has struggled since his offseason switch to Chelsea.
It was presumed Chelsea’s ideal front three this season would be Werner up front, flanked by wingers Hakim Ziyech - another of the new signings - and Christian Pulisic, but Lampard has rarely had that luxury. Even when he did, like in the 3-1 loss to Manchester City this month, it didn’t work out well.
Lampard suggested recently that Werner, who has only four goals in the Premier League so far, may not have had as many games as he’d like as the sole striker because he didn’t press enough from the front.
“It’s normal for Timo and others who came in the forward areas for us to take some time to get used to what my idea is, what their teammates’ idea is, because we haven’t had working time on the pitch,” Lampard said.
Yet Werner said in his introductory media conference in September that he’d had a lot of conversations with Lampard - and been sent videos from the coach - about Chelsea’s style of play, and that he joined with the feeling that “the system he wants to play will fit me very well.”
That doesn’t appear to be the case.
And, when Chelsea heads to Leicester for a Premier League game on Tuesday, it’s not obvious whether Werner will be starting on the left, up front, or if he’ll be back on the bench.
“When you’re a top player, as Timo has shown he is, all eyes are on and it becomes magnified,” Lampard said. “But the basics are the same and my job is to tell him that.”
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