Kai Havertz: Why Has Chelsea Midfielder Not Flourished Yet?

Kai Havertz’s start to life in the Premier League has, so far, been mixed.

The 21-year-old attacking midfielder has played 10 times – scoring once in the league and four times overall – since joining Chelsea for £71m from Bayer Leverkusen in September.

Kai Havertz: Why Has Chelsea Midfielder Not Flourished Yet?

But with manager Frank Lampard having used the Germany international in numerous positions already, it raises questions about whether the Blues have worked out how to utilise a player who provided goals and assists in abundance at his previous club.

So how can Chelsea, who face Rennes in the Champions League on Wednesday, get the best out of an undoubtedly talented youngster?

The many positions of Havertz – where have Chelsea used him?

Lampard has deployed Havertz as a right winger, a number 10 and even – on one occasion against Liverpool – as a central striker.

None of these roles are foreign to the German.

“For me, my best position is as a number 10, but I can play on the right side or as a striker,” he said in September.

But the way he has often been asked to play those positions has been different from how it was when he excelled for Bayer Leverkusen and Germany.

Havertz: Leverkusen v Chelsea
Domestic seasonPressures in middle & defensive thirds*Pressures in middle & defensive thirds*Touches in defensive third*Touches in opposition box*
2019-20 (Leverkusen)
2020-21 (Chelsea)3.2810.328.031.97
*per 90 minutes

This was clear from Havertz’s debut against Brighton on 14 September, in Chelsea’s opening Premier League game, where he played on the right wing of Lampard’s 4-2-3-1 set-up.

The areas Havertz occupied on the pitch at the Amex Stadium rendered him ineffective, as he was often being asked to drop deep on the right side and try to build play.

This is best illustrated from his average position (number 29), which, incredibly, was deeper than N’Golo Kante (number seven), who was playing in midfield. This led to Havertz having no touches in the opposition box and failing to register a shot.

Image showing Havertz's average position in the season opener against Brighton was in his own half

More recently, Havertz again played off the right wing in a 3-4-3 in the 0-0 draw at Manchester United on 24 October.

Theoretically, the system should have led to Havertz having more freedom to occupy advanced positions. However, he played in deeper areas of the pitch again, with his average position almost alongside wing-backs Ben Chilwell (21) and Reece James (24).

An image showing Havertz (29) played the deepest of Chelsea's front three in the 0-0 draw with Man Utd

In fact, Havertz collected more passes (seven) from Chelsea centre-backs Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva than his central midfielders (five). The German again failed to attempt a shot or touch the ball in the opposing box.

Even when Havertz played as a number 10 in the 0-0 Champions League draw with Sevilla on 20 October, he had an early influence on the game in the final third but, as Chelsea’s frustration grew, he dropped deeper and his influence waned.

Just 29% of his touches in the first 45 minutes were in his own half, but this increased to 45% in the second, and once again he failed to attempt a shot, which is at odds with a player who netted 38 goals during his final two seasons at Leverkusen.

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Why is a deep role less effective for Havertz?

Interestingly, Havertz’s deeper positioning directly cost Chelsea a goal in October’s 3-3 draw with Southampton.

Attempting to dribble through the Saints’ counter-press, he was dispossessed, allowing the visitors to tee up Danny Ings – and it highlighted how he isn’t completely comfortable receiving the ball in such deep areas under pressure.

Havertz: Leverkusen v Chelsea
Domestic seasonShots*Chances created*Expected goals*Expected assists*
2019-20 (Leverkusen)2.131.940.330.23
2020-21 (Chelsea)
*per 90 minutes

Chelsea’s third goal in the game provided the perfect contrast. They successfully played out of Southampton’s press but this time Havertz’s starting position was near the halfway line and he was able to make a run into the box and sweep home Timo Werner’s cross.

In Saturday’s 3-0 win over Burnley, Havertz lined up in a relatively unfamiliar role on the right side of a very attacking midfield three, once again being asked to contribute to deeper build-up play.

Almost 50% of his touches were within his own half and he almost cost Chelsea again, with his intercepted pass leading to Ashley Barnes firing narrowly wide.

This time Havertz had just one shot and two touches in the box.


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