Sometimes it is easy to forget that there is more to Timo Werner’s game than comedy misses, doomed dribbles and an inability to stay onside. Labelling the forward a dud would be an exaggeration. Werner has his uses in certain scenarios and, for true devotees, there will always be that decoy run in Porto – the moment when Turbo Timo zipped from right to left, pulling Manchester City’s defence out of shape, and made the space for Mason Mount to send Kai Havertz through to score Chelsea’s winner in the Champions League final.
You had to appreciate the unselfishness. On the one hand Werner had been at his most infuriating earlier in the evening, bungling a series of inviting opportunities to give Chelsea the lead. On the other, look at what he does without the ball. Look at the scurrying, the pressing, the boundless enthusiasm; only then will you develop a true appreciation of Werner’s value to Thomas Tuchel, who is yet to give up hope of making it work for his luckless £47.5m forward.
Tuchel is still trying to find the answer and Chelsea’s manager is not alone in willing his fellow German to succeed. Supporters like Werner, who has become a cult hero at Stamford Bridge, because he is all heart. They admire his ceaseless optimism in the face of adversity. They loved that the 25-year-old kept going after having a goal harshly ruled out against Southampton last month – the 16th time the 25-year-old has been denied by officialdom since he moved to England in 2020 – and got his reward by scoring the vital second goal in a 3-1 win.
The problem, though, is that the other stuff is hard to ignore. There are rough edges to Werner’s game and the sense that he is not cut out for the Premier League grew when he toiled during Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United, who effectively negated the former RB Leipzig forward by denying him space to run behind and reasoning that he was never going to hurt them by getting on the end of a cross.
“Poor,” was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s summation of the Germany international’s performance. The former Chelsea striker, who was in the Sky Sports studio, was unimpressed with Werner’s work on and off the ball and was critical of a bad miss in the second half. “You’re a No 9,” Hasselbaink said. “You’re going to be judged on the opportunities that you get and what you do with it. It was not good enough. He keeps on missing big chances.”
The profligacy will not have escaped Tuchel’s attention. He had seen positive signs in training and Werner had come off the bench to score a tap-in during Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Juventus. It seemed like a good moment to give Werner a chance to play up front. He had been finishing well in training and, with neither Havertz nor Romelu Lukaku ready to start, Tuchel decided to place his faith in him.
But it did not work out. Werner was easily shackled by United’s reserve centre-backs, Victor Lindelöf and Eric Bailly, and he never looked like scoring. His movement was off, his dribbling lacked conviction, he struggled to link the play and there was little surprise when he spurned his clearest chance, volleying wide when he should have hit the target.
Ultimately it was hard to shake off the sense that Werner will never be a long-term solution through the middle for Chelsea. Although Tuchel defended him after the game, pointing out that he lacked sharpness after coming back from a hamstring injury, his patience has limits. This cannot go on indefinitely. Prolific in the Bundesliga, Werner has seven league goals since moving to England and there are times when he simply looks out of place at Chelsea, particularly as they have veered away from counterattacking football this season and become more of a possession team.
That shift makes it even harder for Tuchel. Werner’s biggest asset lies in his speed on the break. Given space, he can surge forward and roll balls across for others to finish. As an inside-left forward, he can be effective. He thrived in that role for Leipzig, playing off a big target man, and he could yet strike up an understanding with Lukaku.
Yet Werner is not a subtle creator. If teams sit back against Chelsea, it is hard to make a case for him starting in attacking midfield when Tuchel has Mount, Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech at his disposal. The challenge has changed. Chelsea are the hunted, not the hunters this season. They are top of the league and, with opponents showing Tuchel’s team more respect, Werner is running out of time to prove that he can rise to the challenge of breaking down a stubborn defence.