As the debate around Timo Werner builds it is perhaps worth beginning at the most basic of starting points. In his first half season in a new league Werner has scored eight goals and provided six assists in 21 games.
For a $60million footballer one might perhaps demand a greater outright goal return but time is on Werner’s side to live up to that price tag; he does not turn 25 until March and is part of a core of Chelsea players who theoretically should reach their prime at around the same stage.
So why then does Frank Lampard find himself addressing his forward’s struggles ahead of Chelsea’s Boxing Day trip to Arsenal? In part it is an inevitable question when any striker is in the midst of a nine game goal drought but those struggles to find the net are all the more apparent when, as his manager notes, Werner keeps getting himself in the right positions from which to score.
“As a striker you want to be scoring regularly, as he has done in his career,” Lampard said. “But at the same time, every striker has moments where the ball doesn’t drop for you for whatever reason.
“The positive thing is that he’s getting chances in games, using his attributes to get in the box and showing his speed. He is getting lots of chances and he will score a lot of goals for us.”
It does not help Werner evade the glare when his misses seem so blindingly simple on first glance.
Not for nothing have social media wags taken to soundtracking his most egregious efforts in front of goal to Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’. “And I miss you,” the audio loops as time after time Werner blazes high or wide from good positions.
Lobbing the ball over the bar from six yards against Rennes, getting his feet in a tangle and firing at Lukasz Fabianski, clearing Olivier Giroud’s goal bound header off the line. These feel like the sort of chances a player with Werner’s price tag should not pass up so frequently. According to Opta statistics only Patrick Bamford and Chris Wood have spurned more big chances than the 24-year-old’s eight. It is, however, worth noting that among those close to him on that list are Jamie Vardy and Sadio Mane. Even the Premier League’s true elite goalscorers have a fair degree of wastage in their shot profile every season.
Indeed Werner could fairly question how deep his scoring slump has been. In Premier League and Champions League he has scored seven goals. From the shots he has taken – and it should be noted he has passed up a few that therefore will not register on expected goal (xG) models that assess the chance of any attempt on goal being converted – his xG is 9.06.
In other words he should have about two more goals from the shots he has taken. If that were a common trend across Werner’s career then it would be cause for concern, though of course he would not be a $60million striker in the first place. Indeed in his best seasons at RB Leipzig the Germany international significantly outperformed his xG, scoring 28 from 21.33 expected goals in the 2019-20 Bundesliga and 21 from 14.57 in its 2016-17 iteration.
That hot streak was no more sustainable over the long term than this barren run ought to be. Over the course of his career in domestic leagues and European competitions he has 110 goals from 108.99 expected goals. Since his first season with RB Leipzig he has 98 from 88.84, an impressive return indeed that would suggest he can be relied upon to score more than he ought to from the chances presented to him.
But no forward can outdo their xG without fail for years on end. Tracked across the expanse of his career, though, Werner’s recent form reads rather more as a wobble than anything too profound.
That is not to say there is not room for improvement. Particularly notable in the Premier League this season is how Werner has wasted chances when he has time to make his choice. He has had 13 shots in the competition with what Opta term “low defensive pressure” and has turned them into just one goal, the third in a 4-1 win over Sheffield United. The xG for those efforts is 2.04 and eight of them did not even find the target.
By contrast Vardy, the sort of scorer whose Premier League record Werner would aspire to replicate or better, has hit the target with four of his five low pressure non-penalty shots. Meanwhile the likes of Mohamed Salah and Heung-min Son dramatically outperform their xG in these low pressure moments; these are often when those two in particular look at their most composed. No-one believes they might miss. They radiate confidence as they bear down on the goalkeeper.
Timo Werner’s goals in domestic league and European games
Lampard might insist that Werner is not “frustrated” but he certainly does not look authoritative and relaxed when these chances come his way. There is something seemingly anxious about his energy when he’s through on goal for those big chances, as though all those missed before are weighing him down.
It feels reductive to say that all he needs is one or two to go in and everything will be fine. And yet it is not as if Werner isn’t able to get into these positions. When he has played as a center forward for Chelsea in the Champions League his xG has been 0.79 per 90, on a par with his best seasons in Germany. Inevitably his chances are fewer and further between when stationed wide on the left but he still generates plenty of attack.
Getting into scoring positions is as much a sign of a great striker as the act of putting the ball in the net on a consistent basis. And as long as Werner keeps getting in spots to miss these opportunities, memeable as they may be, Lampard is right not to worry.