Thomas Tuchel described Kai Havertz as a “hybrid player” when he first floated the idea of playing the German as a false nine.
But on a successful Wednesday night for Chelsea in Seville, Havertz simply looked lost in his role as the team’s central forward with Mason Mount and Timo Werner on either side of him.
These were the Champions League nights Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich pushed through the £62million signing of Havertz for and it would be unwise and unfair to write him off in his first season at Stamford Bridge.
Ben Chilwell’s goal to give Chelsea a two-goal quarter-final cushion may well ensure that Havertz’s glaring miss against Porto does not prove to be expensive, but Tuchel will surely conclude that his team need a real number nine and not a false one, as they threaten to finish the season in spectacular style.
Quite how a player with one Premier League goal all season and who is still yet to score in the Champions League for Chelsea could get in ahead of the club’s top scorer in Europe, Olivier Giroud, and their top scorer in all competitions, Tammy Abraham, is a mystery.
Giroud had scored four goals, including a perfect hat-trick, on his last visit to Seville earlier in the competition and how the Frenchman must have longed to get on before the 65th minute when he eventually replaced Havertz.
It is clear that Chelsea are desperate to do everything they can to help Havertz make a success of his first season at the club, but maybe it is time to accept that his best position, for now, is on the substitutes’ bench.
There is no shame in a new player taking a season to acclimatise, particularly after arriving in a global pandemic and contracting coronavirus, and it feels as though the false nine position had been settled on as a way of accommodating Havertz, rather than getting the best out of him.
Mount has made himself undroppable, rising to the challenge of Havertz’s arrival brilliantly well, while, even when not scoring, Werner can scare opponents with his pace, forcing mistakes and making assists.
It should have been another Werner assist on the hour mark against Porto, but, with the goal gaping in front of him, Havertz somehow stabbed the ball wide after being teed up by his club and international team-mate.
Werner himself missed yet another good chance, heading over the bar at the start of the second half, but at least he has been impacting games during his goal drought.
Just as Giroud would have hoped for more than 25 minutes to add to his six Champions League goals, Abraham would have been champing at the bit to try to prove Tuchel wrong and add to his 12 goals this season after being left out of the squad entirely for the 5-2 Premier League defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the weekend.
Abramovich does not involve himself in Chelsea team selections, but it certainly seemed like a wise political play from Tuchel to give last summer’s biggest signing, Havertz, the chance to come good.
But, now, with a place in the Champions League semi-finals very much in his grasp and a Premier League top-four place in Chelsea’s hands, surely Tuchel needs to do what’s best for the club and not what’s best for Havertz in the run-in.
That’s not to say Havertz cannot play a part. He very much can and he is more than capable of making an impact from the bench or taking inspiration from Mount and rising to a challenge.
Mount, of course, was left out of Tuchel’s first starting line-up for the goalless draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers, but has since convinced Chelsea’s latest head coach that he has to play.
That has undoubtedly made it harder for Tuchel to find a place for Havertz as well as Werner and an out-and-out striker. At the moment, it is Havertz offering the least convincing argument to start games.
With their season moving towards what could be a thrilling climax, Chelsea cannot afford to carry passengers or persevere with experiments that are not working.