Thomas Tuchel was asked post-game on Sunday why he opted to start Timo Werner against Manchester United in the middle of his attacking trio, something he rarely has done.
“He looked very sharp in training scored many goals in the last two training sessions that’s why I went for my gut and put him on the pitch and hoped that he can hurt the two central defenders.”
The use of the word “gut” is interesting when assessing the overall verdict on Werner from his coach, experts and his supporters after another disappointing display where his frailties were again present.
The feeling of hope around Werner seems to power most of the praise over his influence rather than an assured certainty over his quality.
Days after Chelsea’s 4-0 drubbing of Juventus where Werner scored the final goal, I was speaking to fellow supporters over the midweek reaction to Alvaro Morata returning to Stamford Bridge and getting roundly booed at his former club.
The word that came up as to why Chelsea’s supporters gave Morata such a hostile reaction was “work” or “trying”.
Frustrated with Morata’s apparent lack of effort during tough spells of his time with the club, when compared to Werner whose effort never appears to dwindle even when he suffers setbacks on the pitch.
This is why the German has already gained a bit of cult-like following, a chant of his own to the tune of “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode.
“Scoring in the Harding and Scoring in The Shed, we just can’t get enough”.
Videos of the newly formed chant emerged on social media before the FA Cup Final against Leicester near Wembley Stadium, the first time supporters of this size had gathered for a game since March 2020 pre the pandemic.
Since then Werner’s name has consistently been chanted. His goals against Aston Villa, Southampton and Juve were celebrated with extra oomph.
“It’s a bit like Torres” was the way one season-ticket holder described the unwavering support for Werner, referring to the way Chelsea fans stuck by the struggling Fernando Torres during his underwhelming Blues career.
It is understandable and wonderful to see supporters positively sticking by a player even when he fails. There is probably no greater reflection of the meaning of support than that Werner’s success or failure is a narrative that the Bridge has emotionally latched onto.
Though at times that unwavering support can veer into unintended condescension.
Extreme praise for things a forward who cost Chelsea £45m should be doing at a bare minimum. His work rate is commendable, but not extraordinary or should be seen as freakish.
It is not unfair to expect the central attacking player for a title-chasing team to produce more, and even with Tuchel’s valid point on his recent return from injury, the misses on Sunday are not uncommon for Werner’s time in SW6.
“He works hard” is not something that would be top of my analysis when I would reflect on the performances of Diego Costa, Didier Drogba or earlier in the season with Romelu Lukaku.
Werner’s performance against Manchester United came to define why he has doubters. There were gilt-edged misses, little impact in overall play and a conclusion Chelsea’s striking answers lie elsewhere.
“Poor. Poor with the ball, poor without the ball,” Former Chelsea strike Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink said on Werner for Sky Sports.
“At the end of the day you’re a number nine, you’re going to be judged on the opportunities that you get and what you do with them.
“It was not good enough, he needs to score at least one of the two chances, especially the other one that he takes with his right he should take with his left and he should score, and then he starts feeling better.”
Hasselbaink’s point on his big chance at a corner is correct. Luckily from my East Stand Upper seat, I was positioned almost in line with Werner, seeing his number, the ball dropping sweetly before he inexplicably went for an audacious outside foot half volley.
One can only wonder, as maybe Tuchel did, what would have happened if that opportunity landed to Lukaku who replaced Werner later. Or Reece James who has little issue striking with his weaker foot.
The wasted opportunity proved costly and that is a sentiment that has been felt throughout Werner’s time at Chelsea.
It felt ironic that not long after Chelsea’s game finished a previous forward in Tammy Abraham was ruthlessly putting away his first look at goal for Roma.
That goal, which helped Roma beat Torino in Serie A, was Abraham’s eighth of the season after making the permanent switch from Chelsea in August for £34m.
By no means can we easily whittle Abraham’s summer exit to the simplicity of arguing it was a simple case of keeping him without any conflict.
Tuchel had made his stance on the academy graduate clear last season, regularly leaving him out of squads with the other traditional striker in Olivier Giroud suffering a similar fate.
Tuchel’s use of a more fluid attack in Lukaku’s absence has only rubber-stamped why both Abraham and Giroud had to leave for the health of their own careers.
But it is not illogical for supporters to look at a more expensive talent like Werner and expect more.
For all of his clear speed and movement, Werner’s overall skillset remains pretty limited.
He is not as proficient in dribbling compared to forwards like Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic or Kai Havertz.
He also lacks the physical profile of Lukaku to be able to hold off defenders and bring others into play.
Werner was bought for the scoring numbers he put up with RB Leipzig and the more chances go begging, the more that 2020 transfer is put under scrutiny.
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Werner is a player starting for an elite-level club, the European Champions. I find it disrespectful to treat him like a 17-year-old Cobham breakthrough embarking on his first season in competitive football; this is a player coming into the prime of his career.
A tally of only six league goals come May will not cut it and serious questions would be asked if Marina Granovskaia would be wise to cut ties in 2022.
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