The £48m ex-Chelsea flop who Fulham and Crystal Palace must stay well clear of amid transfer links
A former Premier League flop could be set to return - but should Crystal Palace or Fulham take the plunge?
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You remember Timo Werner - blonde striker, scored a ton of goal in the Bundesliga, was signed by Chelsea for a cool £47.5m, suddenly looked completely lost and scored just 10 Premier League goals over two seasons before being shipped back home to RB Leipzig at a substantial loss. It wasn't one of the great transfer success stories of the Roman Abramovich era.
But now he could be on his way back - at least, according to recent reports which suggest that Leipzig have offered the forward to several English clubs, with Crystal Palace and Fulham among those intrigued by the prospect of giving Werner a second bite of the cherry. But would that be good idea - and would they be getting the free-scoring forward who forced his way into the Germany team, or the diminished version that struggled so badly at Stamford Bridge?
Leipzig have started shopping him around for a deal, which would most likely be on a loan basis in the first instance, after Werner fell out of favour this season with new signing Loïs Openda now the first name on the teamsheet up front. Werner was subsequently relegated to being a part of a rotating carousel of supporting strikers, which includes Football Manager wonderkid Benjamin Šeško and Werner's former front-line partner Yussuf Poulsen.
Werner didn't play too badly over the course of his first season back in Germany, scoring 16 goals in 40 games across all competitions, but such numbers represented a major downturn compared to the fearsome figures he was putting up during his first spell in eastern Germany. Back then, he racked up 95 goals in 159 games, signing off with a 28-goal Bundesliga season that persuaded Chelsea to part with all that money.
It's pretty clear to the naked eye that Werner simply isn't the same player as he once was. He looks less confident in front of goal, less sure of his body's movements, and seems to have lost a little bit of the ferocious acceleration that allowed him to get away from defenders so quickly a few years back. He simply isn't the same threat in the final third that he once was, producing a pretty tame xG of 0.32 per game since returning to Leipzig.
But is he an entirely spent force? He's still just 27 years old, after all, and it's only a year or so since he was last in the Germany squad. His form has dipped and his head has dipped further, but perhaps the right coach, and the right situation, could turn things around for him. If most of the problems are psychological, then why not?
After all, he still seems to have every ounce of the technique that he had in his prime years before the move to Chelsea. By any statistical metric he's still a very good passer, has fantastic numbers for dribbling, and is still generating a lot of positive yardage for his teams both by dropping back to pick the ball up and by finding space up front to receive passes. It's only once he reaches the opposing penalty area that the numbers suddenly fall off a cliff. It's no great stretch to imagine much of the issue being mental rather than physical.
So on the surface, a loan deal for Werner looks like a relatively low-risk, high-reward move for a club like Crystal Palace or Fulham that need a bit of extra firepower up front - if he gets back to his best, then they get a player who has proven to be at a higher level than either club's players typically reach. If he doesn't, well... it was only a loan.
The biggest issue, though, concerns how they use Werner. One of the major problems with his move to Chelsea was that he failed to adapt to a 4-2-3-1 system - during his time at Leipzig, he played almost exclusively as part of a top two alongside a target man like Poulsen, and that brought out the best in him, allowing him to play quick one-twos and ply the channels alongside a forward with whom he had a fantastic understanding. Asked to play up front alone at Stamford Bridge, he floundered and struggled to find ways to connect with the players around him.
Both Palace and Fulham currently play with systems that use just a single lone striker, and which employ the same broad brushstrokes as those of the Chelsea team that Werner failed to integrate with. If they expect to play him as a number nine, they will likely be disappointed again.
Of course, they could change tactical tack to better include Werner, but that may not work out well for the rest of the squad. Or they could play him on the wing, where he has played more often since rejoining Leizpig, and trust his qualities as a passer and dribbler to produce results - but that hasn't really panned out for Leizpig when they've tried the same. His issues with production and self-belief in the final third have continued regardless of position, as they did in his second season at Chelsea when Thomas Tuchel chopped and changed his position in the hopes of getting more out of him.
When it comes down to it, Werner has scored just two goals in 13 games this season, albeit that most of those appearances have been from the bench. Somewhere beneath the bad form and the lack of belief in his own abilities lies an extremely good player, but it's been a minute since we've seen him in action. Could he elevate a mid-table Premier League team? Perhaps - but it's far from guaranteed, and it would need exactly the right coach to make it happen.