One by one, the attacking disappointments are heading out of the exit door at Stamford Bridge. Romelu Lukaku has already gone, loaned back to Internazionale a year after joining Chelsea for a record £97.5m, and now Timo Werner has followed his fellow forward in choosing to bring a premature end to his underwhelming spell in England.
Like Lukaku, Werner has decided to head back to the place where he played his best football. The Germany striker is returning to RB Leipzig in a deal worth around £25m, a mere two years after leaving the Bundesliga club for £47.5m, and while it was impossible not to admire the 25-year-old’s effort in a Chelsea shirt it is difficult to argue with Thomas Tuchel’s decision to let him leave.
The statistics tell their own story. There was plenty of excitement when he joined Chelsea, who beat off competition from Liverpool and Bayern Munich after watching him score 34 goals in all competitions for Leipzig during the 2019-20 season, but it has not worked out.
The qualities that made Werner so deadly in the Bundesliga – the direct running down the left, the searing pace – have not proved as effective against Premier League defences and he cut a miserable figure by the end of last season, weighed down as he was by a series of increasingly comical misses, goals ruled out by tight VAR calls and, most significantly, the sense that he simply wasn’t Tuchel’s cup of tea.
This move is best for all parties, even if Chelsea have been forced to dispense with yet another expensive forward. Werner, who is worried about losing his place in Germany’s World Cup squad, has not had a good relationship with Tuchel for a while and needs a fresh start.
Tuchel, meanwhile, needs fresh options up front. He has already brought in Raheem Sterling, who was bright during Chelsea’s win against Everton last Saturday, but more is required. “Is it necessary to bring more offensive players around the box?” Tuchel said at the end of last season. “We will ask that question.”
The answer, of course, is yes. “Listen, it’s the same players,” Tuchel said after watching Chelsea lose 4-0 against Arsenal during pre-season. “Why should everything change?”
The German has given up trying to hide his frustration with most of his creative players. The numbers are stark. Only Mason Mount, who is not a striker, hit double figures in the league last season and there was little sign of an improvement when Chelsea beat Everton. They were blunt as an attacking force – winning a tedious game when Ben Chilwell surged forward from left wing-back and won a penalty for Jorginho to convert – and are crying out for more incision in the final third.
Is there a solution? Inevitably some of the focus will fall on Tuchel’s approach. Chelsea’s head coach likes to use a back three, with two midfield sitters guarding the defence, and the system can feel sterile at times.
Much of the creative emphasis is on the wing‑backs – Tuchel has come to view Chilwell and Reece James as his No 10s – but being a forward in this side does not always look like much fun. At times it looks as if Chelsea are reliant on set pieces, or one of their front three conjuring something special out of nothing, and the spotlight on Tuchel will grow harsher if the goals do not start to flow this season.
At the same time Tuchel is entitled to point out he is in the middle of a rebuild. He has signed Sterling, who is a proven Premier League goalscorer, but further changes are surely on the way. After all, Werner and Lukaku were not the only disgruntled members of Tuchel’s attack. There are doubts over Callum Hudson‑Odoi’s future – the winger has asked to leave on loan following his omission against Everton – while Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic are both unsettled.
Tuchel is prepared to rip it up and start again. He will happily listen to offers for Ziyech, who has been targeted by Milan, and does not trust Pulisic, whose contract expires in 2024. Chelsea need new ideas. Of course it is hardly encouraging when Tuchel keeps losing his forwards, but by the same token only Mount has made himself undroppable. To put it into context Ziyech, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi managed 11 league goals between them last season.
As for Kai Havertz, expectations will be higher with Lukaku and Pulisic gone. The £62.5m German is elegant, graceful and capable of moments of brilliance, but he is also inconsistent and prone to long dry spells.
This is a big season for Havertz, who was insipid against Everton. Chelsea, who are considering a move for Barcelona’s Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang, need someone to step up. They have fallen behind their rivals in the goalscoring department and will see what proper forwards look like when Antonio Conte’s Tottenham turn up at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. With the honourable exception of Sterling, there is no one like Harry Kane or Son Heung-min in Chelsea’s squad. It must drive Tuchel mad.