A big money signing brought to Stamford Bridge from foreign shores experiencing a nightmare period in front of goal – heard that one before? Arriving at Chelsea in November 2019 with huge expectations to go with her huge contract (believed to be worth around $600,000 per year, one of the most lucrative deals in Women’s football), Kerr appeared to be a shadow of her former self. She only appeared 4 times in the curtailed 2019/20 Women’s Super League season and netted just once. While this seems a reasonable return for a new signing feeling her way into new surroundings, that solitary goal came from an expected goals (a metric which measures the quality of a shot based on several variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal) tally of 3.3.
This early malaise threatened to ruin the Australian’s second season in England too, but having hit a rich vein of form, Kerr is now the league’s leading scorer and is fundamental to Chelsea’s chances of success both domestically and in Europe. With fans searching for a reason to be optimistic following Werner’s early woes in front of goal, they need look no further than Kingsmeadow Stadium, home of Chelsea Women’s team and Sam Kerr.
Timo Werner was bought for a fee in the region of £54 million last summer, arriving with a huge reputation for scoring goals to uphold. The German international struck a stunning 28 goals in the Bundesliga during the 2019/20 campaign for RB Leipzig, second only to the imperious Robert Lewandowski in the league scoring charts. He also added 8 assists to that tally, showing an impressive creative spark. However, he has found the net only 5 times across over 2000 minutes of league action for the Blues, averaging a goal every 428 minutes (nearly a strike every 5 games). That is hardly a desirable goal tally for a central midfielder in modern football let alone a striker. One of the consistent issues surrounding Werner’s performances is the confusion over where his strongest position is, as he has moved between centre forward, a winger on both flanks and a left sided attacking midfielder. However, the purpose of this article is to focus on his finishing and how it can be improved so we will set aside the raging row over where to play the misfiring German for now. It is also worth noting that the German has clocked up an impressive 11.16 expected goals in 29 league appearances, the 11th best figure in the league. This implies that Werner is consistently getting into high quality shooting positions, and when he eventually regains his confidence and composure in front of goal, his goals tally should rocket.
After a difficult start for Kerr in 2019/20, she finally got her chance to regain some form after the women’s game took a 6-month break during the early stages of the pandemic. The 2020/21 season opener came in the form of the Community shield between the Blues and fierce rivals Manchester City, winners of the WSL and the FA Cup the previous season respectively. It would prove a nightmare return to action for Kerr, however, as she contrived to fluff no fewer than 4 gilt-edged chances – sitters even!
The first graphic shows the Australian through one-on-one with Manchester City stopper Ellie Roebuck, following an intelligent run between City’s two centre backs to latch on to a perfectly weighted through ball by Ji So-Yun. With just the keeper to beat, Kerr’s finishing lets her down as she attempts to take the shot on her stronger right foot under pressure from centre back and keeper and sends the ball narrowly wide.
The second graphic shows Kerr in oceans of space following a deflected Ji free kick, but with so much time to think of where to place the ball, she eventually screws her header wide of the right-hand post – when missing looked harder than scoring! The 27 year-old showed natural predatory instincts to get into such a brilliant goalscoring position in the first place, however.
Next up is arguably the pick of the bunch. Kerr shows impressive pace to keep up with Fran Kirby on the break and is rewarded with a fine ball on a plate for her to finish. This time going with her left foot, Kerr scrapes the upper surface of the ball, sending it rolling slowly wide of the net.
Finally, just before being put out of her misery by manager Emma Hayes (being substituted off shortly after) Kerr snatches at yet another one-on-one with Roebuck. Not only was it a disappointing effort, but she ignored Kirby in a much better goalscoring position and yet failed to play a simple pass across goal, instead going for glory herself.
Ironically, Kerr was saved by centre back Milly Bright, who showed the striker how it’s done, netting a screamer from all of 30 yards out as Chelsea went on to win the game 2-0 and secure the season’s first piece of silverware!
Fortunes quickly turned for Kerr, as she found the net in the very next game – the league’s season opener – against Manchester United in a 1-1 draw, and she hasn’t looked back since. She has netted a phenomenal 17 goals to go with her 5 assists from just 19 appearances: that works out as 1.19 goals per 90 minutes in the league! She has also been lethal in the Champions League, netting in both legs against German champions Wolfsburg in the quarter finals as well as against Benfica in the last 32. The Australian has struck up an almost telepathic relationship with Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby, as they form arguably the deadliest front three in women’s football.
One goal that emphasises Kerr’s rise in confidence and incredible centre forward’s play was her strike to seal the Blues’ progress to the semi finals of the Champions League. Back to goal, Kerr neatly controls Sophie Ingle’s cross, whilst using her physicality to lean into her marker and ease her away, creating the few inches of room she needed to punish the German side.
Using the space she has created, Kerr takes one touch to get away from her marker, before taking another to steady herself before her shot, finding herself sandwiched by 3 opposition defenders.
Kerr is unable to keep her balance as she pulls the trigger with her right foot, tilting dangerously close to the floor. That doesn’t stop her from firing a brilliant shot inside the keeper’s near post.
In the space of four touches Kerr reminded the world that she is a truly elite forward. First she displayed her hold up play and physicality, then the speed of thought and foot to dart between defenders, before the composure and self-belief to finish from an unsteady position. Kerr had turned her Chelsea career around thanks to the patience and belief of coach Emma Hayes and has marked herself out as the outstanding centre forward in Europe. Werner could certainly learn a few tricks from his colleague at Cobham…
Having seen Kerr blossom into the elite striker football fans always knew she was (as the all-time top-scorer in Australia’s W-League and the NWSL America), followers of Chelsea are hoping that Timo Werner can undergo a similar transition from floundering forward to top marksman. Whilst Kerr’s struggles lasted for around 5 or 6 games on new shores, the German has struggled all season after a very promising start to the campaign. Some of his misses have been remarkable and no amount of statistics can explain them, for example this howler against Leeds United in December where he blocks Giroud’s goal-bound attempt and manages to hit the bar from a yard out with the goal gaping.
However, not all of the former Leipzig man’s misses have been comical. Often when Werner is through on goal – thanks to his intelligent movement and reading of the game – he has lacked the composure or confidence to convert clear-cut chances into goals (hence his earlier mentioned staggering underperformance on xG). Here, Werner uses his blistering pace to peel off the Sheffield United centre backs and race onto Hakim Ziyech’s brilliant ball over the top. With plenty of time and just a stranded Ramsdale – well off his line – to beat, Werner scoops the ball over the goalkeeper and wide. It is the kind of chance he would have put away without a second thought last term but possibly overthought it in the heat of the moment on this occasion.
On the day Chelsea went top of the Premier League for the first time in the 2020/21 season with a 2-0 win over Newcastle United, Werner managed to miss a glorious opportunity when played through on goal by teammate Tammy Abraham. With just the goalkeeper to beat and plenty of time to tee up his shot, Werner scuffed his right footed effort well wide of the goal.
Nothing sums up Werner’s lack of confidence in his own finishing ability at present better than his woeful penalty miss against Luton in the FA Cup. With 5 minutes left on the clock, he hit his effort at a comfortable height almost straight down the middle, resulting in an easy save for the goalkeeper. This was in stark to his usual ice cold efforts from the spot, scoring five from five last season. It is worth noting that Werner himself won the penalty and has proved adept at winning spot kicks in crucial games against the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool.
There is still plenty of time yet for Werner to prove his worth to Chelsea over the next half a decade. The purpose of this article is to illustrate how a slight upturn in self belief for a struggling elite striker can make all the difference to their goal return, and to encourage fans with the fact that the German – like Kerr – consistently finds himself in high quality shooting positions. Over time, expected goals (xG) tend to balance out: you only have to look at the massive overperformance of Mason Greenwood for Manchester United in the league last season, netting 10 goals from an xG of only 3.39! This season he has been brought back down to earth with a return of only 3 goals – 1.5 below his xG. Werner could very easily end up overperforming his impressive xG numbers next season if he gains some confidence and goes on a hot streak in front of goal, bringing his tally of goals closer to his xG since arriving in England. Even if you are sceptical about the fairly new xG method, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that if a striker keeps getting in the right areas, the goals will eventually follow, and that will surely be the case with Werner.
Dropped for successive games for the first time this season (significantly Chelsea’s best attacking performance of the Tuchel era so far came against Crystal Palace without Werner), it is crucial that Werner responds positively. On form, the forward fails to make Chelsea’s strongest eleven, but he could still play a vital role in a congested end to the season, with the Blues still chasing an unlikely (yet possible!) FA Cup and Champions League double. Perhaps a bit of finishing practise with his colleague, Sam Kerr, at Cobham could do the world of good for Werner. After all, if anyone knows about turning around a stuttering Chelsea career it’s her.
Written by Danny New