It was a half-paced and ultimately frustrating game that highlighted Timo Werner’s strengths and gave a lesser-seen glimpse into his flaws. The striker, who is expected to complete a £54m move to Chelsea in the coming days, created RB Leipzig’s opener; pressed, harried and persevered with all the manic intent Frank Lampard so admires, but wasted two gaping opportunities to kill a game that unexpectedly came to life in its final seconds.
Leipzig’s chief executive Oliver Mintzlaff denied that the 24-year-old’s release clause had been activated prior to kick-off as Werner’s agent dots the i’s and crosses the t’s on a five-year contract. And, maybe, the promise of uprooting from home and settling into a new squad after four successful seasons in Leipzig briefly – and inevitably – bled into distraction.
But, after scoring 25 goals in the Bundesliga already this season, the unique qualities he will bring to west London are by now familiar: an innate calm in front of goal, a frightening turn of pace, and, perhaps equally as important, the ability to spearhead his side’s defence from the very front.
By Werner’s usual standards – scoring with almost a quarter of his shots this season – Saturday’s was an erroneous display in front of goal. After stealing in on a scuffed back-pass early in the second half, he checked past the keeper but skewed his shot wide of the open goal, albeit from a tight angle. Then, in the final few minutes, he thrashed a left-footed shot fractionally over the bar only moments before Christian Strohdiek scored Paderborn’s late equaliser. He did, though, exhibit the clinical sense of calm he’s come to be known for in the decisive moment of the first half, darting off the last man and squaring to Patrik Schick for Leipzig’s opener.
Make no mistake, Werner’s pace is one of his greatest assets. But, more so, it’s how he, often sparingly, uses it. There’s a clear methodology, honed by Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann, to his short incisive bursts, idling just out of eyeshot before springing to life in a 20-yard dash. He is by no means a conventional striker, lingering outside the opposition’s right back or dropping into the half-spaces in front of the defence, dragging players with him and picking apart pockets of space. Only then, with his defender off-guard, does he time that cutting run to latch onto a through ball. It’s a threat that will transition frictionlessly to the Premier League and is tailor-made for the fluid counter-attacks that have brought Lampard’s side much success this season.
Perhaps, the most unique threat Werner will bring to Chelsea isn’t his proficiency in front of goal, but the way he instigates the press. Even against bottom-club Paderborn, who spent much of the game pinned to their heels, he was a constant pest out of possession, relentlessly buzzing between defenders, never allowing the opposition to settle and orchestrate attacks. For all Tammy Abraham’s strengths, it’s an outlet he isn’t able to offer to the same degree. And, to achieve that breathless vision of play that’s proven so dominant for Liverpool and Manchester City, it’s an essential starting point that Chelsea have otherwise lacked.