Chelsea signed Kai Havertz in the summer transfer window of the season 2020/21 for a club record initial transfer fee of $95 Million. The 21-year-old German talent is tipped by top football pundits and ex-footballers such as former Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack to become the next big thing in the world of football.
Ex-Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves has compared Kai Havertz to the Chelsea legend Michael Ballack. Owen said in an interview, “He is special. He is like a hybrid of Michael Ballack and Mesut Ozil. That says a lot in terms of his goals and elegance. He is a super player.” Havertz’s name is usually mentioned in the same bracket as fellow ‘generational talents’ such as Kylian Mbappe, Jadon Sancho and so on. Havertz has also been tipped to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or by fellow teammates and other reputed German scouts and pundits.
Kai Havertz first burst onto the scene when he became the youngest player to ever make an appearance for German club Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga at 17 years and 126 days. He is also the youngest player to reach the milestone of 50 and 100 top flight league appearances. He ended his Leverkusen career with 181 Appearances and 58 Goal Involvements.
Havertz has always been on the radar of top clubs but their interest became more concrete after his brilliant end to the 2019/20 season with Leverkusen. After just having three goal contributions (1 goal and 2 Assists) in the first 17 games of the season, Havertz managed to turn his form around to end the season with 10 goals and five assists in his last 17 games of the season. This bright end to the season prompted Frank Lampard and Chelsea to invest in him and get him involved in Frank Lampard’s revolution at Chelsea Football Club.
Kai started his Chelsea career on a good note with a hat-trick against Barnsley in the Carabao Cup. However, it is safe to say that Kai has found it difficult to replicate the level of performances at Chelsea that he showed at Bayer which earned him the move to Chelsea. With just nine goal involvements (prior to the Morecambe game) in 21 games this season, Chelsea fans are getting concerned- if Kai Havertz really commands the exorbitant sum we spent on him just a few months back.
There could be many factors so as to why Kai could be going through this rough spell of form in his early days at Chelsea. The obvious reason which comes to mind is the difficulty of the Premier League. Foreign players usually find it difficult to come in and instantly settle in at Premier League clubs because the level of physicality and the intensity that the Premier League offers is significantly higher than what a player would encounter in other top European leagues. As a young 21-year-old coming to a new league, Kai was never expected to come in and take the league by storm but the huge $95 million price tag and the expectations at a top club like Chelsea have put the pressure on him to maintain a decent level of performances.
Another reason that comes to mind is the constant change in his positions made by Frank Lampard to make up for injuries at the club. Like fellow German Timo Werner, Havertz has not been played in a position of his preference for various reasons. At first, injuries to wingers Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic forced Frank to play Kai or Mount as wide players and this resulted in a drop of performance levels. Kai, being new to the league, would’ve preferred to be played in a position he is more comfortable in to get adjusted to life in the Premier League. However, the demands at a club like Chelsea didn’t help his case.
Personal performances from Kai have not been great either. He has usually found himself in positions where he can’t affect the game and when he has found himself in positions where he can, he has found it difficult to convert those chances into goals or assists. Factors like his off the ball movement, his elegant ball control and dribbling and just general football intellect were the reasons top clubs were after him. His dribbling has still been good but there have been situations where a lazy touch has given the opposition advantage and some poor passes which took Chelsea off the rhythm when trying to affect the game.
Another major factor could be his contraction of the Coronavirus. Kai stated that he had a very difficult time due to Covid and defined his symptoms as very severe. In an interview with BBC he said, “It was like a very bad flu for me…. I would just lay in my bed and everything was hurting”. He also stated in the interview that it took him a couple of weeks to get to normal levels of training since returning. Frank Lampard also mentioned that he had to take a cautious approach with the returning Kai Havertz and that resulted in him being dropped for three games after returning.
All these factors together might’ve played a big role in the major dip in form that Kai has undergone since arriving at Chelsea. It is important for Frank Lampard and Chelsea to turn this around and get Kai to perform week in-week out as talents like him don’t come often. It is pretty clear from the growth of players like Kevin De Bruyne, Mohammed Salah and Romelu Lukaku that Chelsea simply cannot afford to let go of another great talent, let alone Kai Havertz. So what can Frank Lampard do to change things around for Kai Havertz at Chelsea?
Kai saw his best days at Leverkusen playing just behind the striker and making late runs into the box, much like Frank Lampard himself. His movement and positioning in and around the box was one of his biggest strengths at Leverkusen. At Leverkusen, he found himself playing in multiple roles as he played right wing, second striker, and false-nine, as well as central midfielder in a pivot. However, he’d see his best days as an attacking player playing in the #10 position where he had the freedom of roaming around and finding spaces and making runs from the blind side of the defender.
At Chelsea, he usually finds himself in a deeper role helping in his defensive duties and tracking as Frank Lampard’s defensive shape relies on all of his players tracking back religiously. From this deeper role, Kai is finding it difficult to affect the game from an attacking point of view and can only spread the ball around the park for further flow of the play. He has been forced to run with the ball for 50-60 yards only for him to play it wide for the overlapping runner to put the cross in or to cut it back.
For Kai to flourish, he has to be let off of the strict defensive duties he currently has and to be allowed to move freely in a more advanced position. For this, Frank has to let go of his preferred 4-3-3 formation which has brought him great success against the low blocks of the bottom ranked teams but the players have failed to replicate the same levels of performances against the big teams. A 4-2-3-1 formation with Kai at #10 playing just behind Timo or Giroud or Tammy with a Kante/Kovacic and Mount pivot is the way forward for Frank Lampard if he wants to get the best out of Chelsea and Kai.
That being said, I still feel that his current form is just a phase and that players like Kai who are extremely good at football eventually succeed regardless of which league they play in.
Written by- Aaradhya (@AaradhyaCFC)
Cover photo- Getty Images