German football has a long and storied history of developing predatory goalscorers. From the penalty box brilliance of Gerd Muller to the striker partnership in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s of Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann through to the perhaps underappreciated tenure in recent years of Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez.
However for all the plaudits that the DFB has gained for their restructuring of the domestic game in the last decade there has been a definite shift away from the traditional predatory forwards being produced at the regional development centres. The likes of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze for example are more mobile attacking players, more comfortable in deeper or wide roles, while Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich has a unique player profile within modern football but is not an out and out striker.
With the retirement of the aforementioned Klose and a sense that Mario Gomez no longer fits the player profile favoured by Joachim Low for the national team there is an opening for a player to make the forward role his own for the current world champion.
That opening seems likely to be filled by the excellent young forward Timo Werner of RB Leipzig.
Whilst the rise to second place and Champions League qualification of RB Leipzig was one of the main narratives of the Bundesliga season it was the performances of players like Emil Forsberg, Naby Keita and Timo Werner that really caught the eye. At 21 years of age Werner was entering an important period in his career where youthful promise would have to start translating to quality of performance. He came through the renowned academy at VFB Stuttgart, Werner made his debut for the first team at just 17 years and 4 months. His potential was immediately apparent although initially he was utilised as a second forward or even as a wide player where his pace and dynamism could be exploited in wide areas.
Despite a relatively sparse scoring record for Stuttgart (13 goals in 95 games) the young forward was seen by Ralf Ragnick and the RB Leipzig recruitment team as a key signing for their inaugural Bundesliga season and he was signed ostensibly to play as a forward as part of a front two in the preferred 4-4-2 system.
Werner exploded in to life this season with 21 goals in 31 appearances at club level and his season culminated in his full international debut and first goals for the German national team. Despite reports that the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are monitoring his progress at RB Leipzig it is highly unlikely that Werner will leave the club any time soon.
What though can we expect to see from Wener going forward?
Versatility in front of goal
Whilst Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez are without a doubt excellent goalscoring forwards they both struggle slightly in the fluid nature of the modern game with the forward being expected not only to come alive in the penalty area but to link up in the final third and contribute in the defensive phase of the game.
Timo Werner is very much a modern forward in that he combines all aspects of forward play in to a single package. As he has gained more experience and challenged himself with the move to Leipzig we have seen Werner add a ruthless streak to his obvious talent.
Equally comfortable with short sharp movements in the penalty area or when running from deep in to space behind the defensive line we have seen Werner develop his instincts and decision making hugely this season.
There are moments within football, when you have been watching the game for a long time, that you will see a moment from a player that immediately transports you back to a previous era or a previous player. That moment occurred for me with Werner just a matter of days ago when I saw him score a goal against Cameroon for the German national team.
More than the opportunism or the movement to peel away from the defenders to the back of the penalty area it was the finish itself that impressed most. Indeed in stooping to head the bouncing ball back across the face of the goalkeeper I was reminded of the opportunistic finishing style of Jurgen Klinsmann. Many young forwards would have tried to take a touch or chance a difficult volley on a bouncing ball.
The quality of the decision making in this instance from Werner was superb.
This time we see the quality of movement and extreme pace from Werner as he runs on to a direct through ball in to space behind the defensive line.
When in the immediate attacking transition we tend to see Werner look to position himself on the shoulder of defenders looking to move on to their blind side before starting an angled run forwards.
Here we see the ball slipped through in the channel between the two central defenders for Werner to run on to. His pace comfortably takes him away from the defenders but he still has to finish. In the early stages of his career we would see Werner snatch at these chances showing a lack of composure. Now we see him pause and wait for the goalkeeper to make the first move before calmly slotting the ball in to the corner of the goal.
Ability to link play
As previously mentioned there is a need for the lone striker in the system of the German national team to not only be a goalscorer but also to link in with the other muti functional attacking players that play in the midfield or wide areas.
This last season has seen Werner make huge strides in his ability to link play in the final third with his ability to hold up the ball with his back to goal being worked on throughout the season. Whilst Werner is willing to link in with teammates he still has that predatory instinct in looking to attacking the penalty area and the oppositions defensive structure when he plays the initial lay off.
In this example we see RB Leipzig initially winning the ball back in the opponents half and stopping their attacking transition. As soon as the ball is won back Leipzig are in a highly favourable position with the opposition defensive structure is extremely disorganised.
Werner has positioned himself in a pocket of space between the two centre backs and when the ball comes to him initially he has his back to goal. His awareness is developed enough that instead of trying to turn for goal with defenders on either shoulder he simply uses the momentum of the ball to flick it outside or the supporting player to run in and attack space.
This time I have chosen to highlight some intelligent play in the penalty area from Werner. As the ball is crossed in from the wide right area we see that Werner has peeled off to the back post anticipating the deep cross.
Instead of heading towards goal as many striker would Werner is aware that he is not in a favourable position. He is intelligent enough to head the ball back in to the central area for a teammate to attack and goal.
Ability in one on one situations
As well as being capable of combining play in the final third Werner is also comfortable taking on opposition players in isolated one on one situations. As a younger player at Stuttgart Werner operated in the wide left area where his ability to beat players saw him initially profiled as a wide player.
Even when lined up as a central striker Werner drifts off in to wide areas in order to capitalise on spaces on the field when the opposition full backs push ahead. He will collect possession and then drive in to the central areas to take advantage of spaces that open up.
Here as Werner picks the ball up in the wide left area. He immediately turns and beats the first defender opening up the field and creating space for himself.
As he drives in to the central areas he creates space in the wide areas for his teammates and forces the opposition to reorganise themselves. As he feeds the ball out in to the wide areas RB Leipzig are initially in an overload towards the central areas of the field. Unfortunately the play breaks down before they can take advantage.
This time Werner picks the ball up on the right hand side of the field against the touchline. He immediately beats the defensive player by cutting back and then inside, again this opens up space for Werner to attack the central areas.
As he moves centrally on the diagonal he is able to connect centrally with Naby Keita before moving on in to the penalty area to try to take the return pass.
This season under Ralph Hasenhuttl has seen RB Leipzig fully commit to the style of play favoured by sporting director Ralf Ragnick with their high pressing style of play.
As one of two central strikers in the favoured 4-4-2 system Werner leads from the front when pressing the opposition defenders and trying to turnover possession.
Here we see Hoffenheim trying to build their attack from just inside their own half. As soon as the defender pauses in possession of the ball we see Werner use his extreme pace to move out and close the man in possession down. Werner is able to nip in and wins possession of the ball before darting back in to central areas.
By closing the man in possession down in this area Werner is opening up the entire half of the field behind the defensive line where his pace can cause chaos.
This time we get a better appreciation of the pace of Werner as he moves quickly across the diagonal of the pitch to close down the defender. The pass back from the midfielder is the pressing trigger as Werner moves at pace over and manages to win possession of the ball.
As soon as he has possession of the ball he looks to attack the space instantly to get through in to the penalty area.
This will prove to be a very important season in the young career of Timo Werner. Another productive season for RB Leipzig could see the young forward cement his place as Germany’s first choice forward for the World Cup.
His blend of pace and finishing combined with a high work rate make him the ideal forward to compliment the attacking pieces that the national team already have. Unfortunately for RB Leipzig if Werner continues to develop at the pace that he has been this season it is unlikely he will be at the club much longer.