The return of German international striker Timo Werner to RB Leipzig from Premier League Chelsea is the latest big news from the transfer window. His time in London with the Blues will be seen by many as a failure as he returns to the Bundesliga. Is this the case? And does his move back to die Roten Bullen make sense?
It was just two years ago that Timo Werner, the hottest property in Germany, was the latest player lured to the promised land of the Premier League with Chelsea paying €53 million for the striker, who had just hit 28 goals in 34 Bundesliga appearances for RB Leipzig. Two years in the English capital however brought just ten league goals over 56 appearances- not exactly the return Chelsea had hoped for, and cause for many people to dub him a failure.
Round peg, square hole
To simply look at the stats and write Werner off as a flop is a little naïve. You only have to look at the difficulties endured by Romelu Lukaku at Chelsea to see that the player has a role to play, but the club can also be at fault in the way they employ their talent.
Werner’s success at Leipzig came with the side favouring an attacking style, which focussed on the central areas and players occupying the spaces between the lines. Werner as one of two strikers could drop deep rather than acting as the last man up top. At Chelsea he was employed as the wider attacker in a front three, asked to play in wider than the opposition fullback taking away his opportunities to use his pace centrally. It came as no surprise that in his first season when played as a central striker against Southampton, he responded with two goals and an assist.
At Leipzig in either a 3-5-2 formation or a 4-2-2-2, Werner was often given the freedom to stay in positions that would enable him to spring his counter-attacking prowess. At Chelsea this wasn’t possible with defensive duties meaning he had to drop much deeper removing this aspect from his game.
It is also true that Werner was guilty of missing a number of chances that did come his way with manager Thomas Tuchel publicly ranting at the player from the touchline at times. Tuchel’s unwillingness to accept mistakes and Werner’s difficulties adapting to a new role were not exactly a match made in heaven (à la Romelu Lukaku). It shouldn’t be forgotten also that Werner helped Chelsea win the Champions League and had an impressive record of going 17 games undefeated (13 wins) with Werner scoring 8 goals and making 4 assists in the process.
Round peg, round hole, happy all round?
The writing was on the wall last season with the signing of Lukaku and with the World Cup coming up Werner needs to be playing (and scoring) regularly. He will surely now get that chance with RB Leipzig paying an initial €19.5 million which could rise to €30 million with various bonusses/ performance triggers.
For Chelsea it represents quite a loss on a player, but for Leipzig it represents a no-brainer in reality. Back in a place he knows, with players he knows (Poulsen, Forsberg) and likely played in a system that plays to his strengths, he should flourish. At the moment, only Christopher Nkunku is blessed with great pace so Werner will compliment this.
Whether in a 3-4-3 formation as the central attacker, or in a 3-4-1-2 and part of a twin strike force (with Andre Silva or Nkunku) Werner should be happier and freer than he was at Chelsea. The announcement this week that RB Leipzig had signed much-wanted Benjamin Šeško for next season, lends the impression that they already perhaps resigned to losing Nkunku next year. The return of Werner goes some way to soften that potential blow.
Former Leipzig coach and current Austrian national trainer Ralf Rangnick believes the move makes perfect sense. Talking to Sky Germany, he explained, “From a sporting point of view, the transfer makes sense. Timo has speed and depth. No player in RB has that in the offensive area except [Christopher] Nkunku.
“In order to play at his performance limit, Timo needs trust and the absolute backing of the trainer. It’s important for Timo that he plays regularly so that he can get in shape for the World Cup. I see him as one of two strikers at his strongest and most effective. [Andre] Silva and [Yussuf] Poulsen could benefit from him.”
Let’s see if Timo Werner’s chapter two at RB Leipzig can make up for his misunderstood time at Chelsea.