HE wasn’t on the pitch, or even watching from the stands, but Chelsea still found a way to hype their fans over the signing of Romelu Lukaku ahead of their opening Premier League fixture, playing a video announcing the Belgian’s return to Stamford Bridge before kick off against Crystal Palace.
There was excitement even before this. There is widespread belief that Lukaku will be the final piece of the puzzle for Thomas Tuchel’s side. That the 28-year-old, who scored 64 times in just two seasons for Inter, will give Chelsea something they lacked even as they won the Champions League last season.
Lukaku’s arrival will, however, pose questions of other members of the Chelsea squad, perhaps none more so than Kai Havertz. While it’s entirely feasible that Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic will dovetail nicely with their new Belgian teammate, it’s not yet certain that this will be the case with Havertz.
Havertz, of course, was Chelsea’s biggest, most notable addition last summer, with the German international making the £71 million switch from Bayer Leverkusen. There was no obvious place for the 22-year-old in Frank Lampard’s side, but the Blues felt they couldn’t miss out on a talent of his calibre.
Lampard never grasped Havertz’s qualities, misusing the German in central midfield or out on the wing, but Tuchel managed to integrate him into the Chelsea team in the second half of the season with the 22-year-old frequently used through the middle. This was, after all, a role Havertz performed well during his time in the Bundesliga.
Tuchel will, however, find it difficult to deploy Havertz as his centre forward now that Lukaku is back at Chelsea. Lukaku can play on the wing, as he demonstrated at the 2018 World Cup when Roberto Martinez used him to great effect off the right in a quarter-final win over Brazil, but Chelsea haven’t paid £98m for one of the game’s most lethal goalscorers to push him out by the touchline.
"I spoke with Kai Havertz when we met in the Europa League and I told him to go to Chelsea" – Agent Lukaku pic.twitter.com/blRzXcmrXK
— Nouman (@nomifooty) August 16, 2021
In order to accommodate Havertz, Tuchel might have to break apart his whole tactical structure and rebuilt it, with the German in behind Lukaku and Pulisic or Werner as a front two. This could work in front of a two or three-man midfield platform, but would rely on the full backs to provide width.
Chelsea simply have too many attacking options to squeeze on to the pitch all at one time. This is after Olivier Giroud left the club for AC Milan earlier in the summer with Tammy Abraham expected to follow his former teammate to Serie A in the coming days (Roma have reportedly agreed to sign the 23-year-old).
Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech are two more scrapping for their place in Tuchel’s team. The Stamford Bridge dressing room is a highly competitive place right now with so many players fighting not to be squeezed out. Havertz is one of those players despite his £71m price tag, which was a club record transfer fee until this summer.
Of course, Havertz has the physical and technical attributes to adapt his game. The 22-year-old is capable with the ball at his feet, boasts exceptional vision and has a sharp eye for goal. He is also strong in the air – something neither Lampard nor Tuchel have utilised fully since his arrival from Bayer Leverkusen. There is plenty there for Tuchel to work with.
Whether or not Chelsea ever had a plan for Havertz, they must devise one now or risk the development of a £71 million asset. Lukaku has been signed to offer Tuchel more cutting edge, but the Belgian’s integration mustn’t come at the expense of those already at Stamford Bridge. Lukaku’s return can’t be an excuse to waste Havertz’s talent.