When Nicolas Anelka arrived at Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window of 2008, it seemed to the world that he was joining as competition to – or potentially as a replacement for – the great Didier Drogba. With the Ivorian forward sulking after the departure of his mentor, Jose Mourinho (even going so far as to tell France Football Magazine that he wanted to ‘leave Chelsea’), it seemed inevitable that in the summer of 2008 he would join the ‘special one’ at Inter Milan. However, Drogba stayed and, after the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti in 2009, formed a lethal partnership with Anelka, one which would fire Chelsea to the first league and cup double in the club’s history. With Timo Werner set to join the Blues this summer, and with new number 9 Tammy Abraham stalling on signing a new contract, we now have a similar situation on our hands. Will Tammy be replaced and shown the exit door, or will he push his game on to new levels and form a deadly duo with his new German teammate, just as Drogba and Anelka did just over a decade ago?
The similarities between the situations in 2008 and the present don’t end at a potentially disgruntled Chelsea striker being joined by a world class forward. Much has been made this season of Tammy’s likeness to his hero, Didier Drogba. Both are able to lead the line on their own magnificently well, use their 6 foot plus frames to bully defenders and play superbly with their backs to goal. They both hold up and link play with ease as well. The other half of both partnerships also bear a resemblance, with Werner and Anelka both possessing extraordinary speed and looking to cut in from the wings to attack opposition defences. Surely it is written in the stars that Tammy and Timo can emulate their great predecessors?
Before Chelsea fans can even comprehend a long-lasting partnership between Tammy and Timo, there is the small issue of the former’s contract quickly running down. With 2 years left on his current deal and negotiations between him and the club coming to a stand-still, this is a potentially pivotal period in Tammy’s career. Inheriting the Chelsea number 9 shirt following a long list of disappointing predecessors – with the last great striker to don the shirt arguably Jimmy Hasselbaink in the early noughties (sorry Fernando!) – Abraham has been able to banish the supposed ‘curse’ that haunted those before him, netting 13 goals and providing 3 assists in just 23 league starts! Lampard knows how crucial a player like Tammy is to Chelsea: someone in the Drogba and Costa mould is hard to find and, now that we have someone who fits the bill, the manager surely won’t be looking to let him go. But whether Tammy feels valued by the club due to a refusal to match his wages to the currently much less impactful Hudson-Odoi, or whether he feels threatened by Werner’s arrival in his position, it could prove difficult convincing him to stay on at Stamford Bridge.
When Anelka joined a Chelsea side in chaos following the departure of legendary coach Jose Mourinho, he was played out of position as first Avram Grant and then Luiz Felipe Scolari persisted with the 4-3-3 formation which had served Chelsea so well, with Anelka crowbarred in on the right wing. The Frenchman was able to play in his natural centre forward berth for much of the 2008/09 season, with Drogba missing 13 league matches through injury and suspension, and duly netted 19 goals to secure the Premier League golden boot. It took a brave man in Carlo Ancelotti to pair the clearly formidable Anelka and Drogba up front together – in a 4-4-2 diamond formation – and Chelsea went on to win the league title, scoring a league record 103 goals in the process, of which 29 were struck by Drogba and 11 by Anelka. So, will Lampard follow Ancelotti’s lead and play a centre forward duo next season?
In the decade following Ancelotti’s tenure at the Bridge, the English game has noticeably moved away from 2 striker formations, with a lone striker and inverted wingers being preferred by almost every club in the league. In fact, this season only Everton (with Ancelotti at the helm), Burnley, Bournemouth and Brighton tend to play with two centre forwards regularly. It could be an option, however, if Lampard decides to pair Tammy and Werner together. The German has played in a centre forward duo in 25 of his 32 league games this term, often playing with Yussuf Poulson, the 6 foot 3 Danish international, or more recently Patrick Schick. Poulson is similar to Tammy in that they’re both the same height, and use their physical advantage to win aerial duels regularly, the difference being that Poulson is played in order to facilitate his more talented teammate. Should Tammy play alongside Werner, he could hold up the ball before linking with his teammate to deadly effect. The Poulson-Werner duo has worked remarkably well, with 31 league goals between them this season so far. Playing with a much more able partner in Tammy Abraham could push this goal output to extraordinary levels.
However, it is more likely that Werner will be direct competition to Tammy, or that he will play off his left, in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation. This would allow the rapid German to cut inside from the wing either with the ball or to latch onto a defence splitting pass. Having previously been a solely counter-attacking option, he has improved his game to break down low-block defences under the tutelage of RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann. The young manager is keen to play a possession-based brand of football, with Leipzig averaging 53.7% of possession in the league this season (roughly the same as Chelsea’s 57%), forcing Werner to alter his game suitably. He now drops deeper to win possession before building up steam on a characteristic dribble or playing a quick pass, bypassing the opposition press. To demonstrate the changes made to his game we can look at his statistics: he has doubled his chance creation (key passes) numbers from 0.8 in 2017/18 to 1.6 per game this season and more than doubled his dribbles in the same time period from 0.8 to 1.8 per game. This makes Werner a more rounded threat than he was a couple of seasons ago, as he can add creativity and dynamic dribbles to his already superb finishing (his shot conversion rate is currently at 27.6% compared to the mighty Lewandowski’s 22.3%) and electric pace. Thanks to Nagelsmann’s input and Werner’s work ethic, Chelsea are buying one of the most complete forwards in Europe.
Werner may occupy the opposite flank to Anelka naturally, cutting in off the left as opposed to Anelka’s favoured right, but given the two share similar skill sets it is easy to compare them. Anelka managed 10 assists in the 2009/10 campaign when paired with Drogba, whilst completing 1 key pass on average per match. Given Werner’s superior chance creation skills it is easy to see that the German could provide Tammy with a deluge of incredible chances. Abraham has demonstrated his phenomenal footballing intelligence this season, making incredible runs into dangerous areas, and so he is the perfect foil to Werner, latching onto his teammates pinpoint passes. However, the 22 year old has missed 17 big chances this season (most memorably against Liverpool in our 2-1 home defeat when one-on-one with Adrián), the third most in the league. With some finishing practise with the clinical Werner and goal-scoring icon Frank Lampard in training, Tammy could easily double his goal tally next season as he is driven on to greater heights by his illustrious teammate!
With two elite forwards pushing each other to be the best they can be, comparisons between Tammy and Timo with Anelka and Drogba are inevitable. Whilst Lampard must still convince Tammy to sign a new long-term deal, this partnership could be one of the greatest in Premier League history. A two centre forward formation could be bought back to facilitate the duo, but even if Chelsea line up with Tammy as a number 9 and Werner playing off his left – cutting in to create chances, making runs in behind the defence, and finish opportunities – we could still see this partnership blossom. With Hakim Ziyech also arriving to add to our wing options of Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea arguably have one of the best attacking units in Europe, and key to it will be the linkup between Tammy and Timo. With memories of the 2009/10 season fresh in Chelsea fan’s hearts, it is time to make room for a new attacking duo as we watch our new forwards tear up the league and hunt much sought after silverware for Chelsea!
Written by Daniel New