Over the years, there have never been doubts about Timo Werner’s quality. Ever since the German made his debut for Stuttgart, his stock has continued to rise. Quite the same has been the case this season, as his abilities seem to be in focus more than ever.
Now 23, Werner has become one of the most-wanted striker in Europe. He has played ten Bundesliga games this season, scoring nine times and assisting thrice. He has already been on the scoresheet twice in the Champions League.
For how he has come leaps and bounds, links with Manchester United are no surprise. His tally of 74 goals in all competitions for Leipzig would ring bells for many Old Trafford faithful, considering the club’s recent problems in front of goals.
When Leipzig made their highly controversial jump to the Bundesliga in the summer of 2016, Werner’s signature for them made a huge amount of noise. This moneybag club from East Germany was signing one of the biggest talents in the country’s game for just €10 million.
The then Leipzig sporting director- Ralf Rangnick, spoke highly of Werner when the player signed. He lauded his ambition and how he always strives to improve. He told Bundesliga.com:
“Despite his youth, Timo Werner has a lot of Bundesliga experience, and has already proven his quality at that level. He’s a very ambitious player, who’s always looking to improve and can pose any opponent problems with his pace. His addition will give our attack yet more quality and more options.“
When that praise comes from one of the best talent-spotters in world football, Werner is meant to be special. The 20-year-old had played 103 first-team games for Stuttgart by then. That is a huge number for someone as young as Werner was back then. The fact that Stuttgart had endured relegation in the 2015-16 campaign made it easier for Leipzig to snare the youngster away.
In his first season at the Red Bull Arena, Werner scored as many as 21 times in the league. He played only 31 games, also assisting thrice. In the seasons that have followed, Werner’s goals have reduced but his overall goals contributions have increased.
Leipzig have maintained consistency in how they hire managers. From Ralph Hasenhuttl and Ralf Rangnick to Julian Nagelsmann today, they have had managers who bring to the table an attacking brand of football.
Under Hasenhuttl, Leipzig became renowned for playing a 4-2-2-2 shape that usually saw Werner and Yussuf Poulsen play upfront. Both had the responsibility of getting on the ball, pressing high up the pitch and be fluid in their movements upfront. The free-flowing and high-pressing system made it very dynamic for opponents to play against.
Under Rangnick (before and after promotion), Leipzig kept switching from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2. They also played a 4-4-2 diamond many times, with Werner and Poulsen as the two strikers.
Leipzig were never known to be possessors of the ball back then too. They lured the opponents into errors and attacked quickly. Werner’s pace and movement was key in that.
New manager Nagelsmann did experiment with the 3-4-3 shape that he used at Hoffenheim. But he has now settled onto a two-striker shape in either a 4-4-2 or a 3-4-1-2 formation. He is known to be highly flexible in formations, depending on what the opposition plays with.
Nagelsmann’s system focuses on pressing high up the pitch and creating numerical overloads while doing that. They look to win the ball back in advanced areas and attack with their quick and technical players.
This consistency in management has been key to the development of players like Werner, Marcel Sabitzer, Emil Forsberg and Poulsen himself. At Manchester United (even at Liverpool), Werner will have managers who want to play an attacking brand of football.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer oversaw his side play a flexible style. They constantly changed formations during Solskjaer’s golden period early on. Players like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard were given immense freedom to move and create and they left a mark.
United sold Romelu Lukaku to Inter this past summer, as the Belgian wasn’t deemed good enough to play in a fluid brand of football. Links with a Werner-esque forward in Wissam Ben-Yedder were made in the summer.
In games against sides like Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, United scored goals on the counter-attack. It saw forwards move swiftly on or off the ball- something Werner loves to do. In other games, they have lacked a striker’s presence up front to lead the line and set the tone for the system.
The new contract that Werner signed this past summer has a release clause of €30 million. With United keen on January signings, Werner is a no-brainer for that fee.