Early winner: A tap-in and a turning point for Timo Werner
Timo Werner ended his goal drought in a big win for Chelsea. This simply must be a turning point for the struggling striker…
“Not decisive, but big.” Thomas Tuchel was talking about the magnitude of Chelsea’s top-four shootout at West Ham, but the Blues boss could have been describing Timo Werner’s first goal in 10 weeks.
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For Chelsea, Werner’s finish just before the break at the London Stadium gives them a three-point cushion in the race for a top-four spot, with West Ham and Liverpool losing ground on Tuchel’s Blues. Before a Champions League semi-final trip to Real Madrid, at a time when the manager admits his side are knackered, this could be a more decisive triumph than he originally anticipated.
For Werner, it must be a turning point. Selected to lead the line among six changes made by Tuchel, the £50million striker was excellent in the first half, varying his contribution by alternating the options he offered, showing to receive with his back to goal and darting behind defenders to stretch the Hammers’ back three.
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In the process of netting for the first time since the win over Newcastle on February 15, Werner did both. First he came short to take the ball off N’Golo Kante while wriggling free and escaping the grasp of Angelo Ogbonna. After moving it on to Christian Pulisic, who slipped it quickly into the path of Ben Chilwell, Werner darted for the box, but not so quick that he was ahead of the ball when the pull-back came. With Ogbonna still choking on Werner’s dust, and Fabian Balbuena sucked towards the goal-line with Ryan Fredericks, the Chelsea striker arrived at the perfect time to stroke home the matchwinner.
With a goal capping a hugely positive half, it should have provided an instant shot in the arm for a player seemingly bereft of confidence in the recent weeks. That did not appear to be the case when he missed a glorious opportunity to double his tally early in the second half when Lukasz Fabianski parried Mason Mount’s drive from distance. With only the scrambling keeper to beat, Werner scuffed a point-blank effort wide of the far post.
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If we dive deep for a positive, it would be that he anticipated the opportunity to miss. And there is no suggestion that Werner hasn’t been getting into great positions. He has continued to make penetrative runs, which aren’t always compatible with the timing of the pass, but a lack of consistency in selection and position offers Werner some mitigation.
But that won’t wash in the long run with Tuchel, who has opted to go striker-less in some of his biggest games while his centre-forwards continue the search for their shooting boots.
One of the few positives for Werner prior to this London derby is that he is neither of Olivier Giroud or Tammy Abraham. The France striker has started only one game in the Premier League since Werner’s last goal, while Abraham has been dropped completely. Until today, when it was Abraham on the bench and Giroud nowhere to be seen. And when Abraham was given a few minutes at the end, he headed over while stood almost on the goal-line.
While Werner might be the least worst option in Tuchel’s eyes, and the fact his price tag means the Chelsea board have a special interest in the German’s success, the manager’s words on Friday were ominous for all three centre-forwards.
“You just need to read the numbers, our top scorers have six goals,” he said before Werner reached even that modest total. “This is clearly not enough for the demands, the expectations and the targets Chelsea has and what we demand.
“I say this without any anger and without being rude to any of the offensive guys, I think they’re very well aware of it. But when we put the goalkeeper in goal for Chelsea we expect him to have a clean sheet. When we let the defenders play, we expect them to produce clean sheets and the best possible outcome straight away. And this is what we expect from the midfielders, we expect passing percentage, we expect the rhythm of the game. And when we put strikers in we expect goals and assists and nothing else.”
Werner has been pulling his weight with the creative duties. In the Premier League he has almost double the number of assists of any team-mate, but the fact Jorginho remains their joint-top scorer is damning indeed.
So this ‘big’ winner has to serve as a stimulant, especially while Werner’s best chance of getting in the side lies through the middle. That certainly won’t be the case if he fails to use it as a catalyst and forces Chelsea to shop for a centre-forward in the summer sales.