Chelsea must learn Germany’s Kai Havertz trick: Neil Humphreys
Rising star shines in right position for country against Turkey
The recent fortunes of Kai Havertz epitomise the madness of modern football.
Two weeks ago, the German playmaker was an overpriced enigma. He was tall, reedy, drifted to the flanks and disappeared from games, suggesting he was more suited to being Arsenal's "Gunnersaurus" than Chelsea's creative fulcrum.
Today, he's the future of Germany and carries a nation's Euro 2020 hopes.
But Havertz's fluctuating form might be less about fickle media cycles and more about how he shuttles between positions for club and country.
The rising star will shine for both, but only in the right place.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has given Chelsea manager Frank Lampard an early Christmas present - the ideal position for Havertz.
Initially, Lampard dropped his new signing onto the right flank of the Blues' traditional 4-3-3. But the 21-year-old is not a conventional winger.
He's barely a winger at all and barely featured in Chelsea's early games, especially against Brighton & Hove Albion, where the lowlight was a farcical attempted pass.
Ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher suggested there was no place for Havertz in Chelsea's line-up, hinting that the club had paid £70m (S$122.9m) for a non-essential luxury item.
Loew clearly thinks differently, essentially building his side around Havertz.
International friendlies are not an accurate gauge of progress at the best of times and these are very much the worst of times, with Germany and Turkey playing out a 3-3 draw in front of 300 carefully screened fans yesterday morning (Singapore time).
But Loew's deployment of Havertz showed what the kid might offer Chelsea and Euro 2020, as long as he sustains momentum on his country's production line.
Germany's ability to incubate fledgling talent is matched by Loew's confidence in giving young players a chance to flourish on the biggest canvas.
Havertz wandered where he pleased against Turkey, tucking in beside Julian Draxler in a loose 3-4-2-1 and directing Germany's attack.
Intriguingly, Carragher's initial concerns for Havertz at Chelsea were valid in the sense that the roving No.10 is an endangered species in a league that has moved towards high defensive lines and constant pressing.
But Havertz sparkled against Turkey, picking up two assists, via a neat one-two and a lovely threaded pass in a standout performance.
English Premier League managers are rarely keen for their prized assets to play in international friendlies and second-tier tournaments. But Lampard may want Havertz to feature in Germany's Nations League games against Ukraine and Switzerland.
Chelsea's new signing acknowledged a sluggish period of adjustment since joining from Bayer Leverkusen. He only turned 21 in June and his last Bundesliga campaign was disrupted by Covid-19.
He needs games. He must relish the opportunity to assert his credentials among familiar faces before returning to his new home, confidence restored.
Germany's fixtures serve as a second audition for Chelsea, a chance to prove that Havertz is worth a regular place and a change in formation to accommodate his unique skill set.
Against Turkey, he drifted inside and worked neat triangles with Draxler. From his wide right position, he cut in on his favoured left foot throughout.
Despite being a relative rookie at international level, he was Germany's most reliable conduit. Everything went through him.
A similar role beckons at Stamford Bridge.
Three goals and one assist in his opening five Chelsea appearances seem decent enough, but the hat-trick came against Barnsley in the League Cup, where Havertz was largely left to his own devices.
Like Loew, Lampard has stated his ambition to play to Havertz's strengths. In Chelsea's recent 4-0 win against Crystal Palace, Lampard opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Havertz at the heart of the Blues' attacking trio.
The old-fashioned No.10 might have a new home in west London after all.
And while the giddy Blues celebrated their new boy's dominance in a Germany jersey, the gloomy Red Devils can only wonder what might have been.
According to reports, Manchester United had also targeted Havertz, but were put off by Leverkusen's price tag. Talk about a tale of two clubs.
Last week, Lampard was willing to tweak his formation for his most talented midfielder. While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn't change anything when his most talented midfielder went AWOL.
Paul Pogba drifted to the left flank in the Tottenham Hotspur debacle and stayed there. He didn't contribute anything of note and remained on the pitch.
But Lampard will continue to tinker to make the most of Havertz's ability, perhaps even plagiarising Loew's international work along the way.
Both bosses appear willing to make space for an artist and understandably so.
In Germany's recent past, Lampard caught a glimpse of Chelsea's bright future.