Kai Havertz's Chelsea form: Young signing struggling to impress so far

Kai Havertz is too good at football not to come good. There are too many expert judges who reckon him the next big thing in football. Too many wise old heads who tipped this young German for greatness even before he became one of the best players in the Bundesliga.

There are no question marks over his attitude, only the circumstances of his first months in England. The bout of Covid-19 that has hampered his adjustment to life in a new country amid an unusually demanding schedule. The ongoing search for his best role at Chelsea as he deals with the pressure of a £62m move – the first transfer of his professional career.

These are all legitimate reasons why Havertz needs time. But it does not solve the problems facing Frank Lampard as he sets about picking his next team after back-to-back defeats.

Havertz turned in another underwhelming performance as Chelsea followed their 1-0 weekend defeat to Everton with a 2-1 reverse against Wolves at Molineux. The 17-game unbeaten run feels a long time ago now. Title hopes have been deflated in just days.

He was no longer on the pitch when Pedro Neto’s winner went in, substituted yet again, just as he had been in each of his four previous Premier League starts. It was an easy decision on this occasion, coming minutes after Wolves’ equaliser with the tide beginning to turn.


Havertz’s final contribution was to be nutmegged by the more outwardly confident Daniel Podence, his shoulders sagging as it happened. It was a trivial moment in the match, really, but only added to the sense that fun is something being had by other players right now.

In the first half, Kurt Zouma and Timo Werner had two shots each. Chances were created by Ben Chilwell, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Olivier Giroud and even N’Golo Kante.

When Reece James fired off an attempt in the opening minute of the second half, it meant that only goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, centre-back Thiago Silva and Havertz had not been directly involved in a Chelsea chance. The man who replaced him, Mateo Kovacic promptly fired off two shots within 12 minutes of coming on. He just lacked that same dynamism.

After finding himself in the front three at Everton, Havertz was back in a deeper role on Tuesday night, in what many believe is his favoured position on the right of a midfield three.

But it is not immediately obvious what he is bringing to the team there. His work was tidy enough but there was little hint of an end product in the final third and he was playing too far up the field to really help provide support to Kante in controlling the counter-attacks.

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Kante and Mount were among seven Chelsea players to make a tackle. He was not. Nor was he among the seven to make an interception either. Kovacic managed both in his cameo.

It is important to stress that it is not as if Havertz is not working, despite his languid gait. That effortless style can bring critics as well as admirers but the truth is that he covered more ground than any other player on the pitch during the first half at Molineux. That is enough to suggest this is more about form than fitness, effectiveness than effort.

He is a player still working out where he fits in this team.

Lampard appears aware of this. “Some of them are young players that are coming to play in this league for the first time and that clearly needs a little bit of time,” he said recently.

He seems ready to trust in talent – understandably so given the considerable investment – and, despite being shifted around a little, Havertz can have few complaints in that regard.

He started the first seven Premier League games of the season as well as each of the first two Champions League games. Coronavirus kept him out of the starting line-up throughout November and after being eased back he has now started each of the last five games.

It is clear that the plan up to now has been to play Havertz into form.

It is equally clear that it is not working.

So what next?

Chelsea supporters know better than most that not every major signing is a success. This is a club that has been caught out in the past when paying big money for superstar names only to discover that they had arrived just at the point of a dramatic downturn in form.

This is different. Havertz is 21 but he has more than potential. It is an investment likely to be rewarded in the longer term. The challenge for Lampard is how best to handle him now.

Havertz will be needed given the hectic schedule but perhaps it will be as a rotation option for the foreseeable future. He and Mount had been used together in a midfield three in wins over Burnley and Leeds but it left Chelsea looking a little vulnerable this time out.

West Ham United

For London derbies against West Ham and Arsenal, as well as the visit of Aston Villa over the festive period, it may be that the return of the double pivot in midfield makes more sense to help stop the counter-attack. Chelsea will need to be every bit as solid when without the ball in the subsequent home game against Manchester City too. It will be a testing time.

Lampard needs to get those games right if he is to take advantage of what looks to be a wide-open Premier League. Balancing the long and the short term will be crucial.

What that means for the young German remains to be seen.

Speaking to Tayfun Korkut, Havertz’s former manager at Bayer Leverkusen, he made an interesting point about the mentality that he believes set the player apart from the rest.

“I do not know what he is feeling on the inside but he does not show it and that is an important quality in a big player if you want to be one of the best,” Korkut told Sky Sports.

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“If you see him playing he will never show emotions. You cannot see that he is under pressure. I do not know if it translates correctly into English but he is always like an ice man. It does not matter. He was 17 and I could put him in the biggest games.

“This is possibly the most special thing about him, his mental power.

“He has an unbelievable mental power.”

He will need that mental strength to come through what is perhaps the biggest test of his career so far as he faces questions over his role in a team expected to deliver trophies.

Kai Havertz is too good at football not to come good. But, for Frank Lampard and for Chelsea, the sight of Kai Havertz coming good cannot come soon enough.

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