After the long awaited return of elite European football competition this weekend, it was finally the turn of Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen to entertain the Bundesliga’s newly-added-to audience. Along with the rest of the brilliant writing team at the Chelsea Spot, I was tasked with following the performances of a number of Chelsea targets and exciting prospects on both teams as relegation strugglers Bremen welcomed high flyers Leverkusen to the eerily quiet Weserstadion.
As the team sheets filtered through, the main talking points were of the positioning of Leverkusen’s star player, Kai Havertz, in an unusual striker position, and the benching of the rumoured Chelsea target Leon Bailey. There was also a league debut handed to wonderkid Florian Wirtz, the 17 year old becoming the youngest player in the club’s history to start a league game.
With the stage set and eyes from all corners of the world set on this potentially exciting encounter, the first 25 minutes were unfortunately rather anticlimactic and rusty. Bremen quickly identified themselves to the casual observer as by far the underdogs in this game, sitting with 10 men behind the ball almost all the time.
As Leverkusen passed the ball around without much attacking impetus, Havertz took it upon himself to drop to the halfway line, as he grew frustrated with his lack of service. The low block of Bremen held firm as the German star tried to carry the ball forward and create momentum to no avail.
The breakthrough came from the most exciting player on the pitch, as Havertz headed home a 28th minute cross from Moussa Diaby. That lead stood for all of 144 seconds as Bremen right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie equalised with a tidy flick from a Bittencourt corner to level the scores.
Any hope that the home side had of holding their ambitious visitors were very quickly vanquished, with the third goal in five minutes coming again from the head of Havertz. Using his 6 foot 3 frame he showcased his aerial ability for the second time, with a free header from Kerem Demirbay’s free kick. Although bagging a brace in just over half an hour was impressive, the shambolic defending from the home side left much to be desired.
Before the half came to a close, there was time for Bremen to create a couple of chances. First the highly-rated Kosovan winger Milot Rashica cut inside from the left and sent his shot a few yards wide, and then a couple of minutes later Bittencourt took down a long ball exquisitely on the edge of the area but blazed his shot over the bar when he probably should have slotted it away.
Leverkusen increased the pressure on the opposition box after the break, with their almost inevitable third arriving just after the hour mark. Another tidy lofted delivery from Diaby was this time converted by the head of right back Mitchell Weiser. Shortly before that goal however, Bremen had created an opening, with the energetic Selassie placing his cross just behind Davie Selke, who was well positioned in the box.
Shortly after they went 3-1 down, Bremen’s Johannes Eggestein carried the ball into the area, chopped back onto his left foot and had his shot blocked. Leverkusen’s fourth put the game to bed in the 78th minute, with a lovely dink from Demiraby over the keeper following a no-look pass from substitute Karim Bellarabi.
The final scoreline of 4-1 to the visitors may have slightly flattered them, with all of their shots on target finding the back of the net. Ultimately it was a game of defensive lapses from Bremen’s defenders, but how did the star players on each side get on?
The 20-year-old once again stole the headlines with his 7th and 8th league goals of the season helping his side secure the three points. Playing in the number 9 role for just the fourth time this season, he looked like he had played there for years. He managed to get 5 shots off and made a huge 44 passes at an 80% completion rate, very impressive numbers for someone playing centre forward. His willingness to dart between the lines was noticeable throughout, as he dropped deep in order to pick up the ball and progress it. All game he was constant menace to Bremen, with their defenders unsure whether or not to follow him as he constantly shifted about, Havertz showed why he is one of the most highly rated prospects in Europe right now. Long linked with a move to Liverpool, he would be an incredible signing for anyone, and reports earlier this month tentatively suggested he could be swayed by the offer of a move to the Blues. Able to play as a striker, off the right wing or in his preferred number 10 position, Havertz would bring a clinical nature lacking from most of our current forward players. With a 9 figure sum likely to be required to secure his services, I was initially sceptical, but with his 13 league goals and assist so far this season backing up his phenomenal 20 from last season, I am confident he would be an incredible signing for Lampard’s young side.
With a couple of assists in his hour on the pitch, the Frenchman showed everyone watching why he is one of the most promising youngsters in Europe at the moment. Although he did not see much of the ball, with most of Leverkusen’s possession concentrated on the right flank, he was highly effective when he had it, his two crosses being converted on the night. Following his summer switch from PSG, Diaby initially struggled in Germany, failing to appear in six of the league’s first ten games. After scoring against Freiburg in late November he hasn’t looked back, with 9 goals and assists coming from just 12 starts in the Bundesliga. At just 20 years of age, Diaby has caught the attention of Europe’s elite. He is an excellent dribbler, completing an average of 2.8 dribbles every league game, and he is creative as well, with 1.2 key passes per game. The forward sees surprisingly little of the ball, making only 20 passes every outing, but when he gets the ball he is extremely effective, as his goal output proves. He is only going to get better and better, and with his ability to fluently switch flanks (which he did with Wirtz all game) as well as being left footed, he is an extremely attractive proposition for Chelsea and most top clubs.
Milot Rashica: The highly rated Kosovan has been a bright spark in an otherwise miserable campaign for Werder Bremen, and his excellent form has seen him linked with a move to Liverpool. However, being a quality option both as a left winger and as a centre forward, could he be of interest to Frank Lampard? His 7 goals and 4 assists in 21 league starts so far suggest he might be, those numbers being made all the more impressive by the lack of support he gets from his more limited teammates. He averages 2.9 shots and 1.6 key passes every league game this season, showing his willingness to create opportunities for other players as well as pulling the trigger himself. A strong dribbler, with 2 dribbles completed every league game, it is easy to see why the forward has attracted interest from some of Europe’s elite. However, on a night where his side showed why they sit second last in the league, the 23 year old struggled, managing only one solitary shot. He did show a willingness to track back, making a tackle and two interceptions, suggesting he’s strong both offensively and defensively. It wasn’t his night, but it looks like he has a very bright future ahead of him and with Willian and Pedro leaving Stamford Bridge this summer, signing a winger of his quality and age could be a wise move.
The 22 year old Jamaican was left out of the starting line up again, frustratingly unable to add to his 7 league starts so far this term. His lack of playing time can be attributed to a muscle injury that kept him out of 5 games early in the season as well as two straight red cards, keeping him out for a combined 5 games. Manager Peter Bosz has also tended to select the brilliant Moussa Diaby ahead of Bailey this season, with Volland also filling in at times on the left flank, and although Bailey can also play well on the right wing, he has yet to play a single minute there. Usually when he sets foot on the pitch Bailey excels, however, with 5 goals and an assist in 720 league minutes. Unfortunately, he was only brought on in the 68th minute on Monday night, with the game all but over. He managed to complete a couple of dribbles and fire off a couple of shots before the final whistle but the lack of match fitness from his teammates showed as they were content to shut up shop and take the three points. The tricky winger likes to take on and beat his opposing full back, completing an average of 1.8 dribbles per game over the past three campaigns. With Chelsea in need of a winger this summer, the Jamaican would be a good purchase, with his phenomenal pace and skill perfect for terrorising Premier League full backs.
Previously dubbed the ‘heir to Arjen Robben’ by the official Bundesliga website, he fits the age profile of Lampard’s squad, as well as being left footed (Chelsea’s current wing options are all right footed) so he could be very valuable to the side. He is also able to cut in off the right wing and bury the ball in the back of the net like Chelsea’s former Dutch star Robben. A tendency for reckless red cards and a potential £85 million fee may put the Blues off, but if he can be bought at a cut price this summer – he is clearly not high up the Leverkusen pecking order – it would represent a wise buy.
Leverkusen’s rising star again impressed. Signed in January from the Portuguese first tier outfit Vitória Guimarãres for what looks a bargain at £16.2 million, the Burkina Faso international towers above most opposition forwards and use his 6 foot 3 frame to good effect. His six starts since signing have led to Leverkusen taking 16 of a possible 18 points, including a win over high flying Dortmund. So far managing 3.5 tackles and interceptions per league game in Germany, he has shown he is very assured defensively. However, it is the centre back’s distribution which has most impressed: his 102 passes a game at a 92% completion rate making him the most prolific passer of the ball per game in the league by some distance. The 21 year old has managed 5 goals in total in his 22 top tier senior appearances to date, showing that he poses an incredible threat when attacking set pieces. He impressed again against Bremen, his five tackles the highest on his side, and he looked incredibly assured on the ball all night, completing 94 passes. The nature of his distribution was what caught my eye, as I am always cautious of players stat padding with sideways passes between the centre backs. Playing on the right side of central defence, he constantly tried to feed the ball forward to right back Weiser in advanced positions, and it seemed to work, as most of the away side’s attacks came down the right flank. He managed 4 long balls as he tried to start attacks by bypassing the opposition press. Although he has yet to rack up enough senior appearances to fully assure a buyer of his quality, if he can keep up this form for another season he could be brought in as the missing link in Chelsea’s defence. He currently averages nearly 30 more passes than the Blues’ top passing defender, Fikayo Tomori, and would definitely be an interesting purchase. His stock is set to sore over the next few months, and with all eyes on him on Monday, he certainly didn’t harm his chances of a big move in the future.
The game itself was a rather drab affair, decided largely by the slack defending of the home side, but Havertz, Diaby and Tapsoba all impressed, and will have got tongues wagging around Europe’s elite.
Hopefully I have given you an idea of the talent on the pitch on Monday night and what they could bring to Stamford Bridge if given a chance. After such a long break from elite football, it feels good to be watching the Bundesliga again, let’s hope that the Premier League returns soon so Super Frank and his charges can continue to entertain us!
Written by Daniel New