Alan Smith column: Patience needed to end Kai Havertz false starts at Chelsea

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Alan Smith
·5-min read
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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It’s hard enough playing as an orthodox centre-forward, especially in a system putting you up against two centre-halves. Believe me, it demands a lot of hard work, not to mention a good helping of nous when it comes to choosing which runs to make.

But a false No9? This increasingly popular role is a little more complicated in terms of movement and relationships with others. There’s a lot more fluidity involved, more swapping of positions with fellow attackers. You need a firm understanding of the precise job and plenty of confidence to pull it off.

On that second point, Chelsea’s Kai Havertz is obviously struggling. That wasn’t difficult to spot the other night against Porto when asked to play through the middle in a way markedly different from, say, Olivier Giroud.

Nothing is coming naturally at the moment, Havertz thinking about things too much rather than working purely off instinct, as happens when you’re flying and it all feels so easy.

In addition, the mind becomes muddled because you’re not entirely sure of what’s expected. Neither an out-and-out striker nor attacking midfielder, a match can easily pass you by, as seen in Seville.

Getty Images
Getty Images

As for the answer, that can only come in time, once a bit more confidence has somehow been found.

On that score, Thomas Tuchel may just have to be patient, for it’s difficult to justify picking Havertz just now, not when the ever-impressive Mason Mount nails down one attacking position and Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Giroud vie for the other two in Tuchel’s preferred formation.

Chelsea’s manager doesn’t seem so keen on a 4-2-3-1 that would allow Havertz to play in the No10 role where he made his name for Bayer Leverkusen. The German side, however, practically built the team around their young star, something that’s unlikely to happen at Stamford Bridge.

We all know it has been a very difficult season for a 21 year-old whose reputation and price tag created big expectations. A dose of Covid didn’t help just when he was trying to adapt to the changes that accompany moving to another country.

On the plus side for Chelsea, the team looks very capable of doing extremely well without having to depend on their £70m signing. Tuchel can work with his compatriot on the training ground, give him a certain amount of game time from now until May and hope Havertz can come good in the next campaign.

The ability, no doubt, is there in abundance. Finding the right role is the biggest challenge now for someone who surely doesn’t want to be known as a ‘false’ anything.

Fulham vs Wolves (Friday, 8pm)

Fulham might have picked up more points away from home than at Craven Cottage this season but all that is incidental now. Time is running out. Every game is vital, especially this one, considering Fulham travel to Arsenal and Chelsea in their next two.

The bad news for manager Scott Parker is that Newcastle, one place above and three points better off with a game in hand, showed real signs of life in their draw with Spurs. Closer to home, Parker might still be mulling over the missed opportunity at Aston Villa last week. To go 1-0 up and end up losing 3-1 revealed a worrying trait in the team’s make-up. For a few weeks now, I’ve spoken about the vital need to keep the faith. We’ll see how strong that belief is against a dangerous Wolves team that’s due a win.

Getty Images
Getty Images

West Ham vs Leicester (Sunday, 2:05pm)

Third-place meets fourth with eight games to go – who would have thought that at the start of this season? Surely not David Moyes, as ambitious as he is. But the way his team is playing, highlighted by some stunning stuff at Wolves featuring real pyrotechnics, you wouldn’t bet against them in this intriguing clash.

With Jesse Lingard in the form of his life, Moyes will just be hoping that Michail Antonio’s troublesome hamstring allows him a run out. Because with that pair in tandem, any team in the country would have to watch out.

On a more cautious note, the loss of Declan Rice clearly weakens midfield, an area where Leicester hold more than useful cards in Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi and the returning James Maddison. In Rice’s absence, Mark Noble did really well at Molineux. Can he keep it up against these gifted opponents?

Pool via REUTERS
Pool via REUTERS

Tottenham vs Man United (Sunday, 4:30pm)

“Same coach, different players”.

I can imagine how well that comment went down in the Tottenham dressing room after Jose Mourinho was asked why his teams can no longer hold on to a lead. Following that 2-2 draw with Newcastle, Mourinho didn’t hesitate to shift the blame, a move that can easily backfire in these sensitive days.

Mind you, he does have a point. Spurs are clearly short on quality at the back, especially in central defence where Joe Rodon looks the best bet moving forward. It will certainly be interesting to see how that backline handles the likes of Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, both in goalscoring form and both starters in October when Spurs ran riot to thrash United 6-1. Revenge is in the air for Mourinho’s former club. So will the Spurs boss be sniping again or possibly celebrating a satisfying double?

Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I
Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I

Sheffield United vs Arsenal (Sunday, 7pm)

No clean sheets in fourteen – not a great statistic for a manager whose one obvious improvement since taking over had been to build a tighter defence.

Slowly but surely, that resilience has gone, as proved last night by Slavia Prague’s late equaliser. In the midst of that, Gabriel is certainly enduring a tough time, with decision-making and composure letting him down. But there’s a whole lot more to Arsenal’s problems than that. For whatever reason, the spirit and intensity once inspired by the youngsters has ebbed away to the point that we end up with lifeless performances like last night when, for the most part, you would never have known it was a European quarter-final.

Still, the Gunners remain very much alive in that competition. They just need a good display at Bramall Lane to set themselves up for Thursday’s second leg.

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