The #10 position has been a topic of discussion for ages. It’s often argued that there is no real importance for #10s in the modern game, yet when we look at some of the best players in the Premier League at the moment, we see Bruno Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne. Safe to say, the position and the players are still there and have a part to play, however, the expectations have changed. What was assumed to be a luxury position with the players sitting in the hole and dictating the offensive game, the attacking midfielders are now more robust, dynamic, defensively intelligent, and also more direct and goal-hungry. Under Pep Guardiola, we have seen De Bruyne more involved in the defensive pressing: getting the ball back and immediately starting a swift counter, and Bruno Fernandes who is similar with his pressing intensity but also gets to the end of chances with remarkable regularity. Mesut Özil is one of those players who refused to adapt to the changing demands from the manager and failed to be a part of his team as a result.
When we look at the new managers of the clubs from the “Top 6”, we realize how a Central Attacking Midfielder can change the appearance of a team. Bruno Fernandes has shown his ability from the day he joined United. Arsenal is finally winning games with the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe from their academy and also looking to add Ødegaard to further bolster their midfield.
Then comes Kai Havertz. One of the biggest talents to come out of Germany in recent times and is also coincidentally a #10. Recently sacked Frank Lampard’s Chelsea acquired two natural central attacking midfielders in Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz, however, for some reason neither of them got to play in the areas they favor the most. With most of the attacking play going through the wings, mostly hopeful crosses, Chelsea’s midfield looked desolate.
When Havertz was at Bayer Leverkusen, he wasn’t the most creative player on the pitch. More often than not the creative burden was shared with his fellow German winger Julian Brandt and this made sure Havertz would get more opportunities to attack the goal by finding spaces from the center of the field. This meant he would make late and intelligent runs into the box and would score goals thanks to final balls from players like Brandt, Bellarabi, and Leon Bailey. Havertz averaged 2.64 shot attempts per 90 which was only second to their striker Kevin Volland.
In July 2019, when Brandt left for Dortmund, Havertz had to bear the weight of creativity on his shoulders and thus began the drop-off in terms of shots but he did start getting into the groove come the final few months of the season and he also improved in terms of creativity. Here are the Shot Creation and Goal Creation Action Per 90 stats.
Not only is Havertz struggling with shots but even in terms of creativity, he’s hit a wall. With Tuchel arriving at Stamford Bridge, there is a possibility that the German coach will look to get the best out of his compatriots Kai and Timo and that could mean a shift in the system. Lampard deployed a 4-3-3 system which moved Havertz as a wide central midfielder and Werner as a wide striker on the left. The former PSG manager will most likely shift to a 4-2-3-1 system based on Havertz as the central attacking midfielder. With the attacking prowess of Reece James and Ben Chilwell, we could witness some flashbacks of the Leverkusen like goals thanks to the off the ball intelligence of the German playmaker.
We have seen Manchester United and Ole turn their fortunes around thanks to Bruno Fernandes and Mikel Arteta attempting the same by building a team around Smith Rowe. Kai Havertz seems a seasoned professional at the age of 21 and with a coach like Thomas Tuchel around, it’s not impossible to see Chelsea make an emphatic comeback in the second half of the season.
By Sudip Sadhukhan.