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Kai Havertz

Bayer Leverkusen, 2016–

Kai Havertz is the latest widely admired young Germany international whose reputation continues to grow. That, like Timo Werner, he has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea is essentially little surprise when each club’s transfer policy is increasingly focused on recruiting promising, younger players, and given the comparisons that have already been made with Mesut Özil and Michael Ballack.

“Kai (Havertz) is a special player,” said his manager at Bayer Leverkusen, Peter Bosz, once so influential in the nurturing of so many of Ajax’s exciting players. Owen Hargreaves, who by playing at Bayern Munich featured alongside Ballack in midfield, said: “”All eyes are on (Erling Braut) Haaland and (Jadon) Sancho but Kai Havertz is the one from a German perspective. He is special and he is like a hybrid of Michael Ballack and Mesut Özil. That says a lot in terms of his goals and elegance.”

Tactical analysis
Havertz is at his finest in a front three, whether playing centrally or towards the right. Similarly to Roberto Firmino, he prioritises withdrawing towards possession and receiving to feet, or drifting towards the ball to create an extra man during build-up phases while a teammate attempts to advance beyond the opposing defenders to create spaces in which Havertz can receive.

If he is isolated and preparing to attack a defender one-on-one, to create the spaces he relishes he will often make a run in behind and then change direction to receive to feet in time to turn and face that same defender before his movements can be fully adjusted to. Those movements also contribute to him linking play with his teammates, and being behind the ball as it advances towards the penalty area.

It is at that point that his lengthy strides ensure that he quickly makes up the necessary ground to arrive late into the area. He identifies spaces between the opposing defenders to move into, often undetected, while maintaining his momentum throughout his run and attacking the ball at speed (below). That those abilities are complemented by his stature making him a good target for direct play, and an aerial threat, makes him one of the Bundesliga’s most promising talents.

Yet if his actions contribute to his team retaining possession more often than it is lost, the frequency with which he withdraws into midfield demands that his technique when receiving possession and playing passes has to be of the highest standard, and it therefore still needs to develop. There remain occasions when passes are sent to a teammate’s feet when in front of them would have been preferable, and perhaps when he plays to a teammate’s weaker foot. He may be continuing to improve, but these traits will have to improve further before he can expect to regularly start for Germany; Serge Gnabry, Julian Brandt, Werner and Leon Goretzka represent intense competition for selection.

Role at Bayer Leverkusen
Leverkusen’s manager Peter Bosz demands his team use several systems. Unless he favours a 4-2-3-1, they have consistently used three attackers, and Havertz has featured as one of those three.

That attack uses what coaches recognise as a “stretch and drop” approach that involves some individuals running in behind while the others withdraw towards possession, in an attempt to unsettle and disorganise their opposing defenders. Owing to his link play and movement, Havertz (below, moving towards possession) is essential both when Leverkusen are attempting to create, and when they are applying the finishing touches to any attacks.

If he is deployed towards the right he doesn’t operate like a typical wide player – he instead positions himself in the right half-space by making deceptive runs, and capitalising on movements detailed to encourage him to receive possession while facing forwards. The right half-space in the attacking third is, similarly, an area in which he thrives.

Havertz will keep the supporting right wing-back or right-back outside of him, but still have penetrative runners ahead of him. The double threat that that represents stretches defences, inviting Havertz to use his ball-playing ability to slide his teammates in.

Kai Havertz

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