On 15th October 2016, a 17-year-old Kai Havertz made his first Bundesliga appearance in Leverkusen’s 2-1 defeat away to Bremen. Roger Schmidt was the coach who first introduced him to the German top-flight, when he subbed off the experienced Chilean and two-time Copa America winner Charles Aránguiz, to give a promising talent his first minutes in professional football – a show of faith given that his team were trailing in the game at the time.
Nearly four years later, Havertz can look back on a remarkable start to his career. He appeared in 114 Bundesliga games before his 21st birthday, a number which has only been bettered by Timo Werner, but in contrast to the Chelsea-bound forward, Havertz managed to score a staggering 35 Bundesliga goals before turning 21, the highest total in the competition’s 57 year history:
After being involved in nine direct goal involvements in his first Bundesliga season, followed by eleven in his second, it was during the 2018-19 campaign where his talismanic all-round influence really came to the fore, contributing 17 goals and providing three assists. That year, at the age of 19, he did not miss a single Bundesliga game and became the first teenager to score at least 17 goals in a single Bundesliga season.
Havertz has continued to build on these numbers, with an average of 137 minutes per goal involvement during Leverkusen’s 2019-20 season – a new personal record for Havertz in the competition.
What Makes Havertz So Special?
His scoring record would suggest finishing is one of his key strengths, something which is backed up by expected goals. During 2019-20, Havertz scored almost three more non-penalty goals in the Bundesliga (11) than predicted according to xG (8.4) based to the quality of his chances.
This output made him Leverkusen’s leading overperformer on xG during the campaign. His manager Peter Bosz knows how to utilise his clinical finishing ability and even used him as a striker on occasions – especially after an injury suffered by Kevin Volland during the spring.
In addition to bagging 36 career league goals, Havertz’s 22 assists are an eyecatcher that brings us closer to his true all-round qualities on the pitch. He has become one of the Bundesliga’s best players by not only scoring goals, but also by managing to dictate Leverkusen’s offensive play at such a young age.
During the past Bundesliga season, Havertz created 57 chances from open play, which ranked him second in the competition behind only World Cup winner and veteran Thomas Müller (81), who set a new record for assists in a single Bundesliga campaign (21).
If we take a closer look at Havertz’s passes, it becomes clear that his direct goal involvements aren’t the only thing that make him so special. This 21-year-old also initiates the assists made by his teammates – no other player in the league provided more secondary chances during 2019-20.
Havertz ranked joint first in this metric with Bayern’s deeper lying midfielder Joshua Kimmich, who together could develop a very promising partnership in the German national team’s central midfield in the coming decade.
Leverkusen’s talisman pulls the strings, having a hand in shots, assists and in the build-up play to both. A metric which demonstrates this all-round involvement is Havertz’s multi-shot involvements. Multi-shot involvements are the number of shot-ending sequences during open play where he took the shot and was also involved in the build-up. Havertz had more multi shot involvements (18) than any other midfielder in the league, demonstrating his ability to both initiate chances and finish them off.
A Mixture of Ballack and Özil?
To be dangerous in both goalscoring and providing assists, Havertz needs to combine finishing skills with an awareness of how to successfully link-up with his teammates. These are characteristics shared by the two attacking midfielders who have arguably left the biggest mark on the German national team during the past 20 years: Michael Ballack and Mesut Özil. Leverkusen manager Rudi Völler, part of the Mannschaft crowned world champions in 1990, recently described Havertz as a mixture of both.
Michael Ballack, who played for Leverkusen between 1999 and 2002 as well as at the end of his career between 2010 and 2012, properly established himself as a match winner during his first spell with the Werkself after joining from Kaiserslautern before moving on to German giants Bayern Munich.
Coincidentally, Ballack appeared in nearly the same number of Bundesliga games for Leverkusen (114) as Kai Havertz has so far (118). However while Ballack, who was one of the most dangerous goalscoring midfielders at his peak, came to the club as a seasoned player, Havertz still has the better goal scoring record at a comparably younger age. Just like Ballack, who captained the German national team between 2004 and 2010, Havertz doesn’t hesitate to assume responsibility in key situations and has taken four penalties in the Bundesliga, converting each of them.
In comparison to Mesut Özil’s time in the Bundesliga, Havertz doesn’t reach the frequency of creating chances or assisting goals, but he makes up for it with his goals scored.
Both players are very closely matched when it comes to minutes per goal involvement, shots and passing accuracy, but whilst the current Leverkusen player might not be as effective at dribbling compared to the 2014 World Cup winner, he possesses a greater physicality, matching the exact height of Ballack (189 cm), and has the higher duel success rate on his side.
A Lack of Consistency in 19/20
After his amazing 2018-19 campaign, Havertz suffered a barren spell between October and December. He failed to score or assist a goal in 13 consecutive appearances in all competitions. He only had four direct goal involvements before Christmas, compared to a combined xG and xA output of over seven.
Since the turn of the year though he seems to be stronger than ever, having had a hand in 22 goals (14 goals, eight assists) from the same number of appearances, and helped his side reach the German Cup final, where he scored from the spot, but couldn’t help his team from succumbing to a 4-2 defeat to Bayern.
Havertz profited from the games where he played as a striker and found himself in much more promising shooting positions. In contrast to his pre-Christmas form, he overperformed on both his xG and xA, with the latter output being in part down to some clinical finishing from his Leverkusen teammates.
His performance boost has coincided with Leverkusen’s elimination from the Champions League and progression to the latter stages of the Europa League, a competition where he has had a much bigger on-field impact during his career so far.
Given his performance in other competitions, it is perhaps a surprise that Havertz has failed to have an impact in the Champions League, having failed to score or provide an assist in eight appearances.
However, with the Europa League resuming this week and Leverkusen enjoying a 3-1 lead over their last-16 opponents, Rangers, following the first leg, Havertz has a real opportunity to continue his outstanding form in the competition and drive his team into the latter stages, as he seeks the first major club silverware in what looks to be a very promising and potentially successful playing career.
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