There wasn’t even a smile, let alone an extravagant celebration, after Timo Werner scored two of Chelsea’s six goals at Southampton on Saturday. Instead, he dished out a manly nod and a superficial hug to his rather more animated teammates. It was like this sort of thing happened all the time.
The problem with – and the conundrum of – Timo Werner is that it doesn’t happen all the time. And that might not happen on Tuesday when Chelsea look to overturn a two-goal Champions League quarter-final deficit to Madrid. The head coach, doubting Thomas Tuchel, could refuse to select his German compatriot.
“This match will absolutely not be the same as this one,” he warned. “He would face a completely different training and challenge. This performance lifted everyone’s spirits and it’s the best way to prepare, but I said the game was probably dead. Everything is possible in football, but that hasn’t changed. Let’s face it: it’s still the Bernabeu, it’s still their home crowd and it’s still a very different team to the one we faced today.
When, after scoring 34 times for Red Bull Leipzig in 2019/20, Werner arrived at Stamford Bridge in exchange for £45million, he looked like both a slice of Roman Abramovich’s money well spent and the response to the research that Chelsea had undertaken. for a striker of 20 goals per season since the splendor of Diego Costa.
Instead, Werner finished the 2020/21 season with six league goals, two of them against Southampton. This time, he had only managed one before Saturday, inevitably against Southampton in October.
Against his favorite opponents, with Chelsea in turmoil both on the pitch after home debacles against Brentford and Real Madrid, and off it as ownership changes loom, Werner has been a revelation. Both of his goals were striker specials: the first due to his blistering pace after passing Jan Bednarek and past Fraser Forster with imperious glee; the second, a simple tap when Forster saved N’Golo Kante’s shot on goal.
Additionally, Werner hit both posts and the crossbar for a unique but unwanted hat-trick and forced Forster into a splendid save. No wonder Tuchel confessed afterwards that he was surprised by the sheer volume of chances his revamped and reinvigorated squad created.
But there was more. Werner was a terror. Heavy and distracted, Bednarek and Mohammed Salisu were such easy prey that Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl introduced a third centre-back, Yan Valery, well before half-time. Valery was more agile and less complacent, but he too offered no answer.
“There were a lot of things done for his style of play today, it suited him,” admitted Tuchel. “I couldn’t cheer him up, it would have been a long conversation from October to April. At times, there are no words: you have to help yourself. When you sign up for Chelsea, you sign for a top club. You have to be up to it and accept the pressure. That’s what Timo did today. He still has to adapt, but today was a step in the right direction.
With Romelu Lukaku injured, Chelsea’s game plan was based on Werner: “there were a lot of things done for his playing style,” noted Tuchel.
Werner bullied the malleable Bednarek and Salisu, but he was well supported. The excellent Mason Mount and Kai Havertz (Christian Pulisic in the second half) controlled the channels where the old-school inside forwards plied their trade. Further on, Marcos Alonso and a revitalized Ruben Loftus-Cheek added other supply lines.
Chelsea were relentless, Southampton were a steamroller and Werner was mostly unplayable. Whether he can actually play in Madrid is a whole other question