The secret to unlocking Timo Werner – ‘He needs to be in a comfort zone with a coach who understands him’
Timo Werner was once again forced to put on a brave face. After a gruelling 90 minutes of football against Leicester City that had seen him lose a goal to an offside flag and then a second to a Var handball call, the Chelsea striker could do nothing but smirk. “I think it’s been the unluckiest season I’ve ever had,” he muttered with a forced smile. Chelsea fans may be inclined to agree. Unlike some Stamford Bridge duds from the past, Werner has not struggled to keep up with the pace of the game or find space in the box for his new club. If anything, each outing for Thomas Tuchel’s side tends to descend into a montage of the German international doing all of the hard work with ease and then, somehow, failing to apply a finishing touch. Whether it be a failed chip over Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker, a goal-line shot off the crossbar against Leeds United or a missed penalty against Luton Town, Werner has tried everything to score and, more often than not, failed to do so. Add to that the fourth highest rate of offside calls in the Premier League this season and it is easy to see why the striker has managed just two goals from his last 18 club appearances. On Sunday afternoon, Chelsea travel to Villa Park to secure qualification for a tournament they could win six days later against Manchester City. Anything less than two outstanding performances and, crucially, goals to conclude the season will leave questions over whether Werner is the right option for Chelsea in the longer term. This represents a first major test for Werner, whose career has – until now – been a story of serene progression. After joining Stuttgart’s academy at the age of six, he worked his way up the youth sides at an unprecedented speed. In a group that included future stars like Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich, Werner was often forced to play in an older age group to challenge himself and by the age of 16 he was scoring prolifically for Stuttgart’s Under-19 team. “He was fast. Really fast,” former Stuttgart youth coach Andreas Hinkel told Telegraph Sport. “In modern football speed is like a weapon and there are fast players and then there are really fast players. He was a really fast player.” However, that exceptional physical ability proved to be a double-edged sword. At 17 Werner had already been called up to the first team, but instead of playing as a striker he was pushed out wide because of his stature and acceleration. It did not work. “In the youth teams he didn’t need the technical skills because of his speed,” remembers Hinkel. “That was maybe a problem at the beginning of his career.” Unlike his youth career, the forward could not rely on his pace alone and quickly realised his technical skills needed improving. As a result, his first two seasons in senior football provided just eight goals and six assists in 68 appearances from the wing. Fortunately for Werner, RB Leipzig had been monitoring the young talent and were happy to pounce when Stuttgart were relegated in 2016. By that point Leipzig were run by tactician Ralf Rangnick and two former-Stuttgart youth development specialists in Thomas Albeck and Frieder Schrof. And they remembered exactly where Werner was supposed to play. Under Ralph Hasenhüttl, Werner hit the ground running at his new club as a proper No.9, scoring 42 goals in two seasons under the future Southampton manager. Then, after a brief Rangnick interlude, Julian Nagelsmann arrived at the club and took Werner to a new level: he plundered 34 goals and 13 assists in 45 games across a single season.