On 22 July, 2016, A young German striker who had recently arrived in Leipzig from Stuttgart was valued at around £7.5m.
From there Timo Werner has evolved into one of the most promising strikers in the game, scoring 21 goals in 2,051 Bundesliga minutes in 2019/20. During his rise, he has worked with Ralph Hasenhuttl, Ralf Rangnick, and Julian Nagelsmann, all of whom are widely regarded as some of the brightest football minds.
Werner is now valued at £57.6m (previously at £72m, but has declined due to coronavirus realignment). Liverpool are reportedly leading the pursuit, with Barcelona and Bayern interested, too. So, how does he play and how would he fit in with potential suitors?
Timo Werner, GOALS + ASSISTS
Werner’s 2019/20 has saw him emerge as one of the most potent strikers in the world. This season he has scored 0.92 goals P90 and assisted 0.31 P90, with 47.2% of his shots being on target. To put this into whole numbers, that’s 21 goals and seven assists. Those 21 goals are an overperformance of his xG by 4.6 goals.
His seven assists is a slight overperformance - 6.1 xA this season - but his game has been adapted under Nagelsmann. His progressive passes rise from 64 in 2018-19 to 93 in 2019-20 despite having 500 less minutes played at this point in the season. The German has applied 336 presses this season (55.65% in the attacking third), with 24.4% of his presses being successful. Now that the data has been looked at, how does he play?
WERNER'S PLAYING STYLE
Werner has evolved under each manager, but most recently under Nagelsmann, he has operated in a two-striker system 65% of the time with base formations commonly ranging between a 4-4-2 and a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2, while there are minor minutes played in a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3.
One example of how Werner operates is displayed in the Champions League match against Tottenham, which we can break down into two images.
As an attack begins for Leipzig, Werner is positioned just behind the last defender. During this attack, he will remain tight with the opposition as they retreat, maximising space available for the attackers behind him.
At the end of this attacking sequence, Werner halts his run between the two central defenders and drops as a short option for his team-mate. After he receives the pass, he turns and takes a shot in this situation with the space that had been created.
In this example taken during Germany’s comfortable win against Belarus, Serge Gnabry is advancing with the ball. Again, Werner sits in the pocket between the central defenders and halts his run. Gnabry plays it over while making his run, which Werner receives and plays a pass between the defenders for Gnabry to take his chance.
These are the situations when Werner appears at his best and most comfortable, when he is allowed to sit in a central role between the defenders and create space for his team-mates to advance. Werner is a smart striker and always looks for a pass if someone is in a better position to score, but he knows when to take a shot and his shots are effective (0.2 goals/shot).
A Liverpool transfer creates a unique situation. The front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane is a trio that is one of the world’s best attacks, so would Werner start? With his ability to play either central or wide on the left, this would put pressure on Firmino and Mane.
If Werner is targeted to be a Firmino competitor, Werner is a better goalscoring option compared to Firmino’s underperforming xG and only eight goals scored this Premier League campaign. However, Liverpool fans will be the first to tell you Firmino’s job is not to score goals, so we can shift our attention to presses.
Firmino has nearly double the amount of presses than Werner with a higher success rate, showing that the Brazilian’s talent as a pressing forward, as the first line of defence, is one that should not be taken for granted.
So if Werner were to replace Firmino in the lineup, would there be a shift in tactics to maximise Werner’s attacking abilities at the expense of Firmino’s defensive abilities? Or is Werner not targeted to be playing as the regular Liverpool central forward? With widely-reported rumours of a potential move to Real Madrid for Mane, could Werner be his replacement?
If that is the case, we see much more similar numbers for the two. With only 33 more minutes played than Werner, Mane has 91 progressive passes (compared to Werner’s 93) and has just under 100 more presses than the German, which is a closer margin than any other player we will compare in this piece. While Werner averages 0.32 goals P90 more than Mane, Mane and Werner have a difference of just 0.01 assists P90. Across the board, Mane and Werner’s numbers are very similar and having Werner as a replacement for Mane would bring in a player with similar abilities and strengths, but may see a slower start as Werner adjusts to a new position.
If Werner doesn’t want a move to England this opens the door for Bayern. Robert Lewandowski has long held the centre-forward position at the Allianz Arena, but at 31 and facing a break from football, his best days could be behind him and a decline is inevitable, despite his prolific goalscoring record.
Werner is not the finisher Lewandowski is, and it is reasonable to believe he may never be. However, if Hansi Flick wants to build a system that includes both Werner and Lewandowski, which both could easily benefit from, it is very reasonable to believe Werner could become another elite Bundesliga talent to leave his club and join the ranks of Bayern.
Barcelona are currently in a striker crisis, as we saw with the controversial Martin Braithwaite move. With Luis Suarez ageing and often struggling with injury issues, there is a clear opportunity. Reports have also suggested Barcelona have met with Werner’s father.
Compared to Suarez, Werner is a more prolific scorer but does not create as many goals. In addition to that, Werner and Suarez generate very similar rates of pressure. If Werner wants to join his international team-mate Marc-Andre ter Stegen and learn from one of the greatest players of all time in Lionel Messi, we could easily see Barca become a top choice for Werner, and Barcelona would likely benefit from him being in the squad.
With a number of potential destinations for Werner, along with the option of staying under one of the brightest tacticians in football in Nagelsmann, this summer will be fuelled with plenty of speculation for the 24-year-old. With the transfer market crashing and only a select few sides being able to spend serious fees for the foreseeable future, who will be the lucky club to win the Werner sweepstake?
If you are interested in more articles and data visualisations similar to this, you can follow Aidan on twitter @ARDataAnalysis.