One of Germany’s best-ever players, Miroslav Klose once said just before the 2018 world cup, “Werner is young, he can eventually become world-class because he has his momentum,” and… He’s getting there.
With 27 goals and 11 assists in the 2019/20 campaign so far, Timo Werner is turning out to be one of the hottest properties in Europe. Everyone is eyeing the 24-year-old’s signature.
A product of the youth academy of VfB Stuttgart, Werner joined RB Leipzig in 2016 in a deal worth 10 million euros after spending 14 years with his boyhood club. A stellar first season with the club resulted in a national team call up for Werner. Additionally, due to his performances in the 2016-2017 campaign, RB Leipzig finished second in the Bundesliga and qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.
An exceptional FIFA confederations cup with him winning the golden boot and leading Germany to victory meant that Werner had cemented his position in the starting eleven for the then world champions.
As the graph suggests, in 2017-18 under Hasenhüttl, Werner had an xG of 0.53 and xA of 0.16 which was similar under Rangnick the following season which was 0.54 and 0.18 respectively.
This season under Nagelsmann however, Werner has reached new heights. He has an xG of 0.72 and an xA of 0.27. Which means that Werner is converting more of his shots into goals and also getting into great scoring positions. Expected goals(xG) has become a really crucial metric over the last couple years to gauge the quality of the player and at the moment, Werner is producing good figures.
So, what changed? Werner has always had great instincts as an offensive player. But his decision-making in the final third has always been questioned. As shown in this picture from last season, instead of passing to the oncoming right-winger running into the space, Werner decides to shoot the ball and it went straight into the crowd. This happened a lot with Werner last season as he took 102 shots in the Bundesliga out of which only 38 were on target.
This season though, he is thinking more carefully and playing in between the lines more often and creating chances for his teammates rather than shooting on sight. The above instance created a goal for Leipzig.
Intelligent Use Of Space
The faith shown and the freedom that Nagelsmann has given Werner has done him a load of good. His clever runs into little pockets and open spaces has resulted in many goals for him and Leipzig this season.
In the above scenario, Werner has made a wonderful run from deep inside his own half into the empty space behind the Paderborn defence. A decent ball from Nkunku and Werner is through on goal and he finishes the move excellently on the counter.
Another situation where the German international has created space for himself after a Leipzig overload on the right-hand side and he darts ahead and passes the ball to Nkunku who lashes it into the top left corner from outside the box.
This also highlights Nkunku and Werner’s partnership. The Frenchman has provided the most number of assists to Werner’s goals this season.
Last year Werner was not so much involved in the build-up play of his team’s attacks. He often remained isolated ahead waiting for the ball to get to him. On the contrast this season, he has been influential in setting up his team’s goals by dropping deep and contriving space for his attack partners. It is a testament to Nagelsmann’s management that he changed this part of Werner’s game, with the Stuttgart alumnus rewarding his coach with six of his seven assists this season by dropping in a deeper role. Not only that, but Werner is also completing more passes per game in this stint. His pass completion rate of 79% this campaign is the highest he has attained in his career so far.
In a similar way again, Werner pushed into midfield against Tottenham in the champions league. This meant that Tanganga got drawn inside and Aurier also switched across leaving space for Angelino to run into and put a cross in.
How often do we hear this term these days? The concept of a traditional flank hugging winger is lost in football. Few teams operate with a vintage wide player in their squad. In the present climate, most clubs look at their fullbacks to provide width in the games. And Werner has slowly transitioned into such a wide forward who cuts inside and gets in the box.
This change has worked for him as he has blistering pace and is one of the fastest players in Europe.
Here you can see how Werner cut across the Frankfurt defender from a wide position after a Nkunku pass. He is now in a great position to score. Him making a diagonal run also blindsides the defenders as they are focused on the number 9 and it becomes very difficult to mark Werner then.
In addition, when Sessegnon was pushing higher up the pitch for attack, Alderweireld would shift to the left-back position. That encouraged Werner to make runs from wide and use his pace to create goalscoring opportunities.
He used the same manoeuvre against Bayern Munich in their 0-0 draw in the Bundesliga back in January. It was the first time in the last 4 meetings that Leipzig walked out with a point from the Allianz. Werner was constantly making runs behind Bayern’s marauding fullbacks. Davies and Pavard had a torrid time keeping Werner at bay especially since he was switching positions from left to right flank and stretching the play. Had he been a little composed in front of goal, Leipzig would have won that game as Werner missed a couple of chances.
Playing It Simple
Speaking of cutting inside, Werner’s natural impulses had him do that plenty of times this season. But on occasion when there are other options, Werner has trained himself to go the other way.
But he has matured and he waited for the cutback in space and scored the goal. Werner has gone back to the drawing board and is playing simple one-touch football. This has Nagelsmann written all over it. His gambit of quick combinational play that he coached at Hoffenheim over the years with one-touch passing and movement in between the lines and then altering play to the wide players is something that he’s aiming to achieve at Leipzig.
It’s not just about him as a player, Nagelsmann’s tactics have largely suited Werner and has made him adapt to new systems as the Leipzig manager doesn’t stick to one formation. He switches to different styles throughout the season. It has made Werner a more all-around forward and his touches in the attacking third has increased to almost 29 per game which is more than what he managed under his last two managers.
But whether it’s him playing in a two-man strike partnership or a three, Nagelsmann considers Werner his most trusted soldier and has played him in almost every game this season and has given him the liberty to play his natural game on the pitch. Which could be why his defensive stats are below par as compared to some of the best players in his position around Europe.
It isn’t a secret that an attacker by trade doesn’t really fancy tracking back and putting in tackles or blocking the opposition passes. Even putting that into perspective, Werner, in particular, is really lagging behind when it comes to working in his own half.
As shown, his blocks per 90 is 0.53 which is quite low as compared to Mane’s 0.99 and Aubameyang’s 1.68.
Even Werner’s tackles per game are nowhere close to Mane and Aubameyang who are at 1.68 and 1.17 respectively. This is not just down to the manager’s tactics, but also a player’s willingness to fully commit himself. And at the moment Werner is meagre in that department.
And if he wants to play in the premier league, as he has expressed interest multiple times in the past, he will have to pump those numbers up.
Despite being a very agile player, his physicality is not up to standard as he always seems to be shrugged off a bit too easily by defenders.
As much as Leipzig would like to keep their star pupil, it’s inevitable that at one point he would want to leave for a new challenge. Whether it’s at Bayern Munich, as historically Bayern are always keen to have all the best young German players in their squad or at Liverpool, a move that is on Werner’s wishlist according to reports remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure though, he will have to prove himself for a starting spot in either of those places, especially Liverpool. The reigning European champions have a set star trio in a fixed system. Klopp will have to tweak his setup a bit in order to fit Werner. Not to mention, the Leipzig forward would have to step on Mane and Salah’s toes to get game time. He is not a very good player with his back to goal, hence it is very difficult to see Klopp pipping Firmino for Werner.
One club which could potentially be very good for him is Atletico Madrid. Simeone is looking to replace an ageing Diego Costa and a potent finisher with lightning pace in Werner would be perfect for his counter-attacking style of football.
From this tactical analysis, it is quite evident how important Timo Werner is to RB Leipzig and Julian Nagelsmann. 71 goals and 26 assists in 4 seasons at the club is nothing to be sniffed at. He has developed reasonably well as a player over the years. There is still room for improvement however as discussed but the coming years could presumably shape him to be a world-class player.