When the discussions around the Restart first started, Ex-Man Utd player turned pundit Gary Neville while advocating for a resumption of the league called for a “joyous festival of football”. A few Chelsea fans like myself were wary about the resumption because, though Chelsea had shown some resurgence against Everton and Liverpool with wee Gilmour becoming the scourge of Merseyside who, with a swivel of hips, sent Fabinho into orbit with six degrees of separation, ours was a side of infectious youthful endeavor held back by callous imbalance.
Having secured a 4th place finish and a Champions League spot for the 2nd season in a row plus an FA Cup final, the restart had a happy ending for Chelsea fans. In the days following the last game decider against Wolves, Werner and Ziyech have been featured in various showcases by the Chelsea official 5th stand app training on the hollowed turfs of Cobham as well as speaking in first interviews.
It was not always like this, and to navigate where we are going, it may be pertinent recall where we have been. The summer of 2018 presented a crossroads for Chelsea in the Roman Era. Conte had just delivered a dog’s dinner of a season almost as disastrous as the “Mourinho season” that he had warned the club hierarchy early on that he was desperately trying to avoid. Chelsea lost out of a Champions League finishing in 5th place, but bagged an FA Cup in a lacklustre final made famous by Phil Jones’ desperate lunge at Hazard’s waltz towards goal, which resulted in the game winning penalty.
Many Chelsea fans had sympathised that year with Conte’s frustrations with the Board, but he had partly contributed to his reverse fortunes: downing tools tactically after the 343/352 seemed to stagnate against opponents who had found out Matic. Diego Costa who had been let go via Conte’s ill-advised text message was a huge miss, and his replacement Morata was not up to par. Morata up till he joined Chelsea was a 1 goal in 3 matches striker who was more comfortable shadowing a more established forward wherever he had played was brought in. He duly delivered just that in his time at Stamford Bridge: a 1 goal in 3 matches record, with sulking thrown in for good measure. Players like Bakayoko, Drinkwater, Zappacosta failed to inspire, while Ake was sold off.
Marina went left field with the recruitment for the next manager. Chelsea has hired Italian managers without silverware winning pedigree before (Di Matteo, Vialli) but the employment of Sarri looked to be a complete turn-around from engaging tried and trusted hands like Conte and Mourinho before him. Sarri is a system manager, and after a tough season delivered the Europa League and a 3rd place league finish, before the call from Juventus.
However, the news of the transfer ban on Chelsea seemed a set back at the time. In fact, many fans and pundits wrote Chelsea off for dead – doomed to relapse into mid-table mediocrity with its status as London’s top dog taken by Champions League final reaching Tottenham. It did not help that Hazard had left – a running theme of post-match interviews during Sarri’s tenure was for journalists to ask him or Hazard questions about the Belgian maestro’s future or a supposed move to Spain, rather than comment on the tactics or performances of the just concluded game. The engravement of Chelsea FC on the Europa League trophy was hardly set in Baku after the final whistle, and Hazard barely had time to take in his star performance and catch his breath, before a hack had shoved a mic in his face to ask him whether the cup final was his last match for Chelsea. It turned out to be – the perfect time to say “a goodbye”.
How times change: a summer later Chelsea is starting to re-up. This is a special club which does things in the most unusual way. Most clubs would create the framework of a settled experienced team and then supplement it with the fruit of their academy slowly and methodically. A youngster coming through would shadow an older teammate for a position, competing for places until the junior comes of age.
However due to the circumstances of the transfer ban, and Lampard’s intrinsic nature, Chelsea are doing their own rebuild ass-backwards. There is a spine of the fruit of our academy in Tammy-Mount-Reece-Tomori-Hudson Odoi-Gilmour who Lampard is constructing the new squad around. The likes of Anjorin, Ampadu, Guehi and Gallagher may yet join this spine in the near future.
The club’s MO seems to be to add the extra bits of quality to that by carefully utilising the transfer market for experienced but relatively young talents in the 20-27 year range. It is a much more difficult way of rebuilding, and one the likes of clubs like Ajax are more experienced in given their unique circumstances. Pulisic, Kovacic, Ziyech and Werner who we purchased in the most recent windows all fit the above profile. Havertz could offer more of the same.
The last time a German attacking midfielder posted up at Stamford Bridge it was to further empower a dominant Chelsea outfit that had just retained their league title – Ballack was signed to provide a ballast in the quest for Champions League glory. It didn’t work that way, though it bloomed other flowers – a glorious domestic double secured under King Carlo, two years after controversial refereeing decisions by Ovrebo in 2009 and the slip in Moscow in 2008 denied Chelsea European Cup glory. Likewise, in the same month we bid farewell to Schurrle, our World Cup winning winger for Germany, who sadly retired from football, but with the thanks and well wishes of the Bridge faithful especially for that wonderful team goal versus Burnley.
What does the 21-year-old player offer for Frank Lampard’s side?
Ex Liverpool and Germany midfielder Didi Harmann had the following to say: “He reminds me of a young Michael Ballack…just a brilliant player, he’s so flexible, he’s tall, he can hold the ball up. He’s physical and technically very gifted. He’s perfect.”
Berbatov, former Manchester United and Spurs striker thinks he could be a good option to replace Hazard: “‘I think it is interesting to see Chelsea linked with him, they haven’t really replaced Hazard since he left and it was always going to be difficult to do so.”
Looking at his stats for the just concluded season on Transfermarkt, out of 43 appearances in all competitions , he played as attacking midfielder in 17 of those and contributed 4 goals and 3 assists. In the center-forward position, his output surged with 9 goal contributions (8 goals and 1 assist) in 8 matches. Playing from the right wing, he produced 5 goals and 5 assists in 10 matches. He is a prolific player wherever he is deployed, though it seems the striker position is where he produced the bulk of his impressive haul of 17 goals in 44 games in the 2019/2020 season. He also has 9 assists for the season.
However, creativity has not really been the issue for Chelsea this season (in the 19/20 league season, only Manchester City with 102.2 had a higher xG stat than Chelsea with 76.2), so I believe Havertz has been purchased for his goal and aerial threat. I could see him fitting in the “Kaka” role just behind the main striker Werner (though Giroud/Tammy will have something to say about that) in a 4231 formation. More a schemer than a controller who chooses his moments carefully arriving at the opposition box, helps advances the play from just after the center circle to help break lines and create space for runners, one makes himself available for cut-backs or crosses from our wide players, and shoots on site from outside the box to help Chelsea neutralize low blocks. Bayern, Man United and Spurs have equivalent goal-scoring hole players in: Muller, Bruno Fernandez and Dele Alli respectively. Chelsea has not had one since Oscar’s early promise when Mourinho rooted for him over De Bruyne and Mata, Barkley has been quite inconsistent and could be a decent squad rotational player at best.
Could Havertz be our Kevin De Bruyne redemption?
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