By rights a striker without a goal since November 14 ought not to be looking at a game against the league’s best defence as a chance to break his drought. And yet Timo Werner may be entitled to feel that
Manchester City are a more favourable opponent for him than the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United.
Werner has not scored a goal for Chelsea since November 7 and is now on a 11 game streak without finding the net, his difficulties such that he was withdrawn at half-time in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal and played just 18 minutes against Aston Villa.
Werner’s slump has not perhaps been as pronounced as the dry streak might suggest. In the Premier League he has scored four goals from chances worth just short of six expected goals (xG), a metric that analyses how likely any shot is to result in a goal. For a player who consistently outperformed his xG with RB Leipzig, the likeliest explanation for the difficulties of the $60million signing is that he is in a cold streak.
His manager Frank Lampard would note that many of those difficulties Werner has faced, some of which have been shared with fellow German summer import Kai Havertz, are a natural reality of moving to a new league. Equally there are challenges specific to Werner’s game that must be overcome.
At RB Leipzig Werner was the focal point of a counter-attacking machine par excellence, a team that did not delay in getting towards the penalty area when the ball came their way. In last season’s Champions League their goal scoring sequences lasted an average of eight seconds from possession being established to the ball finding its place in the net.
In the Premier League in particular, Chelsea are rather more methodical, a natural reality for a team that face opponents willing to cede possession and challenge them to break down a deep defensive line. Without the space to attack in behind Werner has had to adapt his game. A City side that defend high up the pitch may just give the 24-year-old the space he needs to thrive.
“We are a possession-based team,” Lampard said. “We will have the lion’s share of possession and we have generally found some low block teams against us over the last period which we haven’t broken down well enough and actually we were earlier in the season.
“Timo’s attributes can be very powerful on the counter-attack, there are lots of things we need in the game against Manchester City on and off the ball. We’ll see but he’s always a huge weapon on [the counter] and will become a huge weapon against low blocks as well. It’s not that he can’t play against that: he’s sharp, he can finish.
“Sometimes the bonus is on us to get the ball in the right area so he can finish.”
Whlle Chelsea’s opponents certainly aren’t playing to his strengths it would be fair to note that Werner is not always as ruthless as he might be given the positions he has found himself in. The Chelsea striker has had 10 low pressure shots in the penalty area this season. Only one of them has been converted into a goal. On occasion he has failed to take the extra touch to work himself into an advantageous position and in other moments he has simply missed a chance he might have done better with.
At least under the tutelage of his current manager, the highest-scoring midfielder in Premier League history, Werner has a source of wisdom at close quarters. Indeed Lampard has instructed his star forward to extricate himself from this slump the same way he used to: shooting his way out.
“In terms of scoring goals, I always found that every player goes through tough times in front of goal. The beauty is he has been getting chances because that’s always a positive. I found work on the training ground the only way to turn that, repetition of finishing, which Timo’s doing now.
“When you work like that I think it’s a matter of time because his natural attributes will get him in front of goal, will get him away from defenders and will get him those chances again. If his confidence comes down from missing a couple that’s only natural. It’s my job to help him with his confidence, be positive and push in a positive direction. I feel the goals will come.”