Kai Havertz: The subtle change by Graham Potter that has turned the Chelsea forward's form around

2PFRYG8 London, UK. 18th Mar, 2023. Kai Havertz of Chelsea celebrates after he scores his teams 2nd goal from a penalty. Premier League match, Chelsea v Everton at Stamford Bridge in London on Saturday 18th March 2023. this image may only be used for Editorial purposes. Editorial use only, license required for commercial use. No use in betting, games or a single club/league/player publications. pic by Megan Ewens/Andrew Orchard sports photography/Alamy Live news Credit: Andrew Orchard sports photography/Alamy Live News

Once described as a “9-and-a-half” by Thomas Tuchel, Kai Havertz has struggled as the focal point of Chelsea’s attack under both Tuchel and his the club's incumbent head coach Graham Potter. Upon the conclusion of the World Cup up until their win against Leeds earlier this month, Chelsea scored just seven goals in 14 matches, with Havertz playing as the centre forward in the majority of those games.

Starting with their victory in the Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea have scored seven goals in their last 3 matches. The biggest change to the Blues' attack has been the move to drop Havertz deeper on the pitch into an attacking-midfield role, scoring in each of those three matches, albeit two of his goals have come from the penalty spot.

What does PFF grading say about Kai Havertz's season?

While Havertz has struggled as a traditional centre-forward, he appears better suited as an attacking-midfielder.

Capped 33 times by Germany, Havertz has been excellent in his distribution generating a PFF passing grade of 86.2 in the Premier League this season, which ranks 2nd among centre forwards behind only Harry Kane (87.9).

His 28 completed line-breaking passes are the fifth-most among centre forwards this season. Havertz’s passing grade would rank 5th compared to wingers and attacking-midfielders, showing he would hold up well in a deeper position.

The former Bayer Leverkusen academy graduate’s other main strength is receiving the ball in space in between the lines. He has received 178 line-breaking passes in the Premier League this season, seventh-most among all players and second-most among centre forwards behind Harry Kane (211).

Additionally, he has received the fifth-most passes per 90 (29.4) and the 8th most line-breaking passes per 90 (7.4) compared to centre-forwards with at least 200 targets.

Work rate would not be an issue playing in midfield, Havertz has the fourth-most successful pressures among centre-forwards in the Premier League this season with 624 despite playing in a possession dominant side. Havertz is averaging 26.1 successful pressures per 90, the only centre-forward averaging more playing for a team in the top half of the table is Roberto Firmino with 34 per 90 (min. 1,000 minutes played).

The weaknesses in Havertz's game

Despite being the scorer of the winning goal in the 2021 Champions League final, the weaker part of Havertz’s game this season has been shooting. His PFF shooting grade this season is 76.2, ranking 17th among centre forwards in the Premier League.

That grade is closer to that of Bukayo Saka (76.2) and Gabriel Martinelli (76.6) than it is to clinical forwards like Erling Haaland (91.1) and Harry Kane (87.7). Havertz’s 2.6 shots per 90 ranks just 24th among centre-forwards with at least 10 shot attempts this season.

Best fit under Graham Potter?

In recent weeks Graham Potter has moved Havertz into an attacking midfield role and immediately seen the impact. Against Leicester he earned a place in our Team of the Week with one of his best performances of the season, scoring the second goal with a lob over Danny Ward on his way to a PFF shooting grade of 89.3, his highest of the season.

Havertz scored again against Everton and could have had more, his 78.4 shooting grade was his third highest of the season and his six shots were a equalled his season-high tally. On a limited sample size there is evidence that playing Havertz in a deeper role can unlock his finishing potential.

Havertz’s grading and data profile suggests he is stronger at receiving the ball in space, passing into dangerous areas, and creating chances for others while being a complimentary goalscorer instead of being a team’s primary source of goals. There is still the possibility he can develop into a clinical attacker but it is more likely to come from playing in a deeper position than the one he has spent the majority of his Chelsea career in thus far.

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