In Focus: Blues Hav to find solution to misfiring Kai's woes
As Chelsea continue their search for a new striker, the pressure is ramping up on Kai Havertz.
The German, 23, enjoyed a successful spell up front for Thomas Tuchel last season but has looked a shadow of his former self during the Blues’ stuttering start to the 2022-23 campaign.
We turn the spotlight on the misfiring forward ahead of Saturday's clash with Leicester.
Blunt up front
Todd Boehly has not been afraid to spend big this summer as he looks to kick off a new era under his ownership at Stamford Bridge.
Over £150million has gone on the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, Marc Cucurella and more.
Yet there is no new striker among their raft of incomings, with the exits of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner leaving a noticeable gap at the front end of the field.
Barcelona striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 33, is believed to be Tuchel’s prime choice to fill that void after the pair worked together at Borussia Dortmund.
But with time running out to complete the deal, whether it happens remains to be seen — with the German manager himself conceding a new No9 may not be signed.
Filling the gap
That has left Havertz, an attacking midfielder by trade, deployed as a striker once again in Chelsea’s opening three games much like he did last season as Lukaku struggled for form.
The 28-cap international looked like the answer up front at times, scoring 14 times in all competitions last term.
But his record of 23 goals in 95 games overall in a Chelsea shirt suggests his capability to find the net regularly is still up for debate.
That is the same amount of goals as Werner — largely considered a failure at Stamford Bridge — managed in six fewer games for the club before he returned to RB Leipzig this summer.
But while question marks remain over his best position, Havertz is backing his ability to succeed.
He told The Athletic: "I’ve played a lot of positions over the years but last season, I played a lot as a No9 and it’s a position I like very much. If I look back four years ago, I could never have imagined playing there.
"It’s still good that I am flexible and can play different positions up front, but I am there to score goals and make assists, and as a No9 you have to do that and link up with players."
Low on confidence
But three games in and that pre-season confidence looks to have completely disappeared.
Starting as one of Chelsea’s two forwards in each clash, the Aachen native is yet to get off the mark.
He has only two shorts on target across those three outings with a combined expected goals total of only 0.78.
While there were concerns in multiple departments of the field during Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat by Leeds last Sunday, Havertz came in for particular criticism after another ineffective display.
Of all Blues players to play the full 90 minutes at Elland Road, only goalkeeper Edouard Mendy had less touches than the 39 he managed — only four of which were in the opposition box.
In light of the continued struggles, the Chelsea boss has even suggested taking penalty master Jorginho off spot-kicks to give his No29 a chance to get on the score sheet.
He said after the defeat at the weekend: "Maybe we need to take Jorginho’s penalties away. For strikers, this sometimes can increase their numbers dramatically — if you give them eight, nine, 10 penalties.
"But then who would take a penalty from Jorginho? We want to win in the end. He a fantastically good penalty taker!
"I think strikers are a very special breed, they’re very sensitive but also very self-confident.
"Any striker would love to be the guy to break the habit of struggling. This is what I believe and feel."
While Aubameyang seems to be who they believe is the answer up front, Chelsea do have a more traditional No9 waiting patiently in the wings.
Academy graduate Armando Broja, 20, is back in West London after scoring six Premier League goals and a further three in cup competitions on loan at Southampton last term.
The Albanian has been used sparingly by Tuchel on his return so far, playing just 16 minutes across their first two games before missing the Leeds clash with a knock.
Possessing plenty of physicality, he could provide the presence they are currently lacking in the attacking third, allowing the misfiring Havertz and Sterling scope to operate in the pockets behind him.
Though a different proposition to Aubameyang, Broja is a solution worth trying in the short term to take the pressure off Havertz and get him firing again.