, August 02, 2021

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Kai Havertz is worth the hype–and is changing the number ten position all on his own

  •   3 min reads
Kai Havertz of Bayer Leverkusen
The aerial prowess of Kai Havertz was on full display in Bayer Leverkusen's first match back from the Bundesliga season hiatus. Stuart Franklin/EPA.

Kai Havertz has enjoyed the Bundesliga’s return more than most, which is saying something given how the resumption of the German soccer season has provided a welcome distraction amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, the Bayer Leverkusen man has found the net four times in his last three appearances.

Such form should come as no real surprise given how well Havertz was playing before the 10-week hiatus, notching five goals and five assists in just eight games. The 20-year-old hasn’t just marked himself out as one of Germany’s brightest young players, but potentially one of the best talents of his generation.

It’s little wonder then that Havertz has become the subject of much speculation linking him to many of Europe’s biggest and best clubs, with Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Manchester United believed to be most interested. Whether or not a move materialises this summer, it seems inevitable that Havertz will command a big a fee from a big club at some point.

The new Ozil, but better

He has, somewhat lazily, been billed as the next Mesut Ozil. In crude terms, there is something to that comparison. They are both creative players defined by their invention and intelligence on the ball rather than their physical attributes, but Havertz is a very different sort of attacking midfielder in that he isn’t really an attacking midfielder at all.

On paper, Havertz is most frequently positioned behind Kevin Volland as Leverkusen’s central striker. But in practice the 20-year-old occupies many of the same areas associated with a centre forward, explaining why his goalscoring record over the last season has been so impressive.

But Havertz also makes himself available as a hub of possession. He is the man his Leverkusen teammates look to most often. He is the player who gives them a platform in the final third. Havertz is a number nine-number ten hybrid in a way that illustrates how the modern game has altered expectations of attacking figures.

Most playmakers do the majority of their work outside the box, but he couples that with a genuine awareness of how to find space inside the area. Perhaps most unusual for a player of his vision, technical ability and passing mastery is that Havertz is also extremely dangerous in the air. His gangly 6'2” frame helps in this regard.

Plotting a path to Liverpool or Bayern?

Timo Werner is another talented young forward who has been strongly linked with a big money move to the Premier League this season, with Liverpool widely viewed as his likeliest destination. But if Jurgen Klopp is looking for an attacker to ease the burden on Roberto Firmino, Havertz should be his top target, not Werner.

At Liverpool, Havertz would perform Firmino’s role as a final third space-filler and facilitator. He might even give The Reds more of a goal threat such is his natural instinct for finding the back of the net. Despite the good fit, Klopp might ultimately face a difficult job in luring the youngster to be a second-string squad figure when he would command a starting place at almost every other elite club in Europe.

The Ozil comparison has stuck, but positionally Havertz is closer to someone like Thomas Muller, the archetypal ‘Raumdeuter.’ Of course, the Leverkusen man is far superior in a technical sense to Muller, a player so awkward he has been described as a junior doctor on a fun run. Regardless, experts have expended a lot of effort over the years to truly explain the German World Cup winner’s position. Havertz splits convention in much the same way.

Bayern Munich might even have lined up Havertz as the long term successor to Muller, with the Bavarians barely making an effort to hide their interest in the 20-year-old. Whether or not that is the right path for him, Havertz appears set to break convention and performance from what was previously expected of players like him.

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