Watching Timo Werner as he powered into the Brighton penalty area, it is incredible to think how long Chelsea have gone without genuine pace in their front-line.
Not a striker who is a bit lively. They’ve had a few of those. Not one who is a handful, a big bully, spoiling for a fight. They tend to beat a path to Stamford Bridge, too.
We’re talking quick, as Werner was to win the penalty for the first goal. Rapid, as he appeared late in the first half, when he pulled clear of his man and tried to beat Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan at the near post.
Timo Werner is a different type of striker to what Chelsea have had for several years
Compared to previous Chelsea strikers Werner brings a lot of pace to their forward-line
Speed has never been more important in the modern game, yet Chelsea, for all their success, have often done without.
Players that were supposed to be fast, like Fernando Torres, turned up slow. Big names disappointed. Frank Lampard worked with the greatest striker of the Roman Abamovich era in Didier Drogba, so it is no surprise that given his first major transfer window, he made finding a world-class goalscorer his priority.
We all know the weaknesses of Chelsea’s defence; we know Kepa Arrizabalaga has not lived up to expectations in goal. He was at fault for Brighton’s equaliser, slow down to long-range shot, and his replacement cannot arrive soon enough.
This is a team that kept one clean sheet away from home in the Premier League last season, and ended the 2019-20 campaign conceding 11 goals in four games. Yet Lampard still went in pursuit of Werner and a supporting cast to supply him. He wanted to make Chelsea a threat again: and he looks to have succeeded.
The midfield has, for too long, picked up the slack at Chelsea. Lampard did it as a player, year after year, so prolific that it took the arrival of no less a talent than Cristiano Ronaldo before Manchester United could mount a successful challenge. Then it was Eden Hazard. Not every season, but when he fancied it. And when he fancied it, there really was no-one better.
In between, strikers came and went. Diego Costa was a horror show for defenders, but eventually for his manager too. Alvaro Morata was a crashing disappointment, given his £60m fee. Lampard, hands tied in the transfer market, showed faith in Tammy Abraham but he came up just short last season and lost his place to Olivier Giroud.
His dash which led to Chelsea being awarded a penalty showed they now have pace up-front
The Frenchman has his qualities but it is hard to imagine him in the mix at the three clubs that finished above Chelsea last season.
And, no, this wasn’t the most impressive performance at Brighton. Chelsea still look vulnerable at the back, and much of their passing was sloppy. But, in Werner, they have got one. And reasonably priced, too. Given what Manchester United are being asked for Jadon Sancho, the ball park £48m for Werner does not appear in the least extravagant.
Perhaps that is what had got under Jurgen Klopp’s skin when he sniped about ownership models last week. Maybe Liverpool’s manager, with his knowledge of the German game, saw Werner as an option at his own club, either this summer or in 12 months’ time.
Last year, Chelsea did not have a striker who would have got a sniff at Liverpool or Manchester United, even Manchester City. Now they have.
Werner joined Frank Lampard’s Chelsea in the summer from RB Leipzig for a fee of £48m
Kai Havertz, the other big signing, struggled on his debut. Werner, by contrast, looked at home straight away. Klopp, so familiar with the Bundesliga, will have known what Chelsea were getting all along.
He was wrong to paint the projects at Chelsea and Manchester City as somehow less worthy, though. As former Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said, there is no such thing as the golden era of football club ownership.
It isn’t as if Roman Abramovich has corrupted a spotless competition, or that Liverpool’s owners are motivated by pure altruism. Fenway are venture capitalists. Liverpool are their investment. That is why a player such as Philippe Coutinho had a price, and why Werner’s could not be met.
Liverpool are a brilliantly run club, their recruitment strategy probably the finest in the country, but it fits the business model of the ownership. Meanwhile, at Chelsea, a very rich man picked up the ball and is running with it.
Chelsea signed Werner though for a while it seemed he would join Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool
Revenue streams have been successfully managed – Brighton’s best player on Monday night, Tariq Lamptey, signed from Stamford Bridge for £4m, possibly rising to £6m, is proof of that – but this has been a personal project, the vision of one very ambitious owner. So it’s different. Not worse; not alien. Different.
Liverpool and Chelsea have both raised funds in recent seasons by selling major players – Suarez and Coutinho, Oscar, Costa and Hazard – but Lampard is right when he says Liverpool are reaping the rewards of backing one manager. His squad still carries the ghosts of bosses past: Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta. That’s not always a bad thing mind. Kante was Chelsea’s best player on Monday night.
Yet in Werner we see how Lampard wants to play, the attributes he seeks from his Chelsea.
‘When he goes, he goes,’ he said of Werner, citing the direct way he won the penalty.
Kai Havertz struggled on his Chelsea debut but Werner looked at home straight off the mark
Ryan claimed he tried to get out of the way when he brought him down but, in fact, Werner was too fast.
Late in the second-half, Ross Barkley released Werner again and he sped into the area as Chelsea strikers so often don’t. There may have been team-mates in stronger positions but Werner was always going to go it alone, and they seemed to recognise that. His first goal won’t be long coming.
So Werner waits – and it is Liverpool next – but this was still a game full of promise. It was his sprint which won the penalty and broke the deadlock, his movement and danger that will have been noted by defenders everywhere. He is a new Chelsea striker, and a different Chelsea striker. It’s been a few years since they have seen one like him in west London. Nicolas Anelka maybe, but better. Werner could well be a game-changer.