Languishing mid-table with only two wins from their opening six Premier League matches, Chelsea are yet to reach the dizzy heights expected of them following their stunning spending spree in the summer. Frank Lampard landed a major signing in almost every position, investing nearly a quarter of a billion pounds in the process. Yet Chelsea are below Crystal Palace and Southampton in the table, even though those clubs spent less between them than what Chelsea dropped on Kai Havertz alone.
Chelsea paid Bayer Leverkusen £70m for Havertz, just below the £71.6m they spent on Kepa Arrizabalaga two years ago. As the goalkeeper has shown, a high price does not guarantee success. Nevertheless, Havertz’s transfer was generally considered a coup for Chelsea. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were among his suitors yet Lampard and Petr Cech wooed the 21-year-old. His performances in the Bundesliga skyrocketed at the end of last season – he had a direct hand in 15 goals in the second half of the campaign – but Chelsea have not been able to tap into that form yet.
With just one goal and one assist in his six league games so far, Havertz has endured a relatively underwhelming start to his Chelsea career and has spoken openly about his early struggles. “It was difficult for me, especially because the Premier League is a completely different league,” he told Chelsea’s official website earlier this month. “It’s more intense and I noticed that in the first few games. The intensity in the duels and the runs is much higher. It’s a completely different league and the games are very exhausting. The Bundesliga isn’t worse but I noticed differences. There aren’t any average or bad players here – everybody is at a very high level.”
Given the money invested in him and the buzz of excitement when he arrived, Chelsea supporters may feel disappointed. But, beyond cutting a young player some slack and giving him time to adjust to new surroundings, there is also another reason to be patient. Those familiar with Havertz’s career may even have predicted a slow beginning.
He was a notoriously slow starter in all four of his league campaigns at Bayer Leverkusen. Isolating the first half of each of those seasons – known in Germany as the hinrunde – Havertz returned a modest 18 goals or assists in 54 league appearances, having a direct hand in a goal every 225.4 minutes. Given his age, that is certainly not a terrible record, but it pales in comparison to his form thereafter.
The Havertz who emerged after the winterpause – into the period known as the rückrunde – was a completely different player. He had a direct hand in 40 goals in 64 league appearances in that time, managing a goal or an assist at a far more prolific rate of every 122.4 minutes. Having a player who comes on strong for the business stage of the season is not a bad ace to have up your sleeve, but Havertz will need to become more consistent at some point and he will not have the luxury of a winter break in England.
Havertz’s best game for Chelsea so far came in their League Cup thumping of Barnsley in September, when the young German scored a hat-trick on just his third appearance for the club. Havertz dovetailed perfectly with Tammy Abraham, arriving late in the box with penetrating runs to finish off smart attacks. Havertz had five touches in Barnsley’s box and scored with three of them, but in his other seven appearances he has averaged just 1.7 touches in the opposition box per game.
Clearly the calibre of opposition must be considered, but it also offers a glimpse into what can be changed to get Havertz back to his best. He is capable of producing goals as well as scoring them but during his time at Leverkusen his goals comfortably outweighed his assists in the Bundesliga (36 goals v 22 assists). It’s peculiar that Lampard, who made a career scoring goals by arriving late in the box, is holding Havertz back from doing the same, instructing him to focus on creating chances rather than finding the back of the net (he has only averaged 0.8 shots per game).
Not everything clicks right away, however, and Lampard is trying to work out how to get the most out of his new players. His six new signings have only been on the pitch together once, against Sevilla last week, and that lasted less than 30 minutes.
If Chelsea’s last two performances are anything to go by, supporters hoping for a dramatic turnaround will be disappointed. Lampard appears to have put the brakes on his forwards in a desperate attempt to finally plug their porous defence. Chelsea have conceded 63 goals in the Premier League since the beginning of last season – which ranks firmly in the bottom half of the table – so tightening the defence is not necessarily a bad step to take. Their stalemate with Sevilla last week was their first 0-0 draw under Lampard and he followed it up with another goalless draw at Old Trafford a few days later. Taking a more defensive approach comes at the cost of their attackers, though. Havertz, for example, did not manage a single shot in either game.
It has not been the start Havertz would have wanted but it would be foolish to make any hasty judgements about the youngster. “The hat-trick was good for me,” he said a few weeks ago. “The start was a little difficult because I only trained with the team for five or six days, then played the first game right away. It was also a very big step for me to leave my family and familiar surroundings. It takes time to get it right.” Unfortunately, it usually takes Havertz until the turn of the year to get it right, but he is certainly worth the wait.