Leicester City, 2015/16 Premier League Champions. A triumph for the underdogs. But how did they do it? Claudio Ranieri took the team from a relegation dogfight to top of the table in just over 9 months, by using the simple tactics of a strong, organised defense, a hard working midfield, and pace on the counter attack. Jamie Vardy’s ability to run off the shoulder of defenders got him into the record books, scoring in 11 consecutive matches, one better than Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s previous record.
2015/16 showed us just how effective counter attacking football can be, and now it’s the Bundesliga’s turn to be rocked by an underdog. RB Leipzig, although controversial off the field, have performed magnificently on it, currently 2nd to the irrepressible might of Bayern Munich. Much of that has been attributed to their three star players, all of which draw some comparison to the key players from Leicester’s feat the season before. Naby Keïta plays the Kante roll, running the game from midfield, Emil Forsberg is the flair player akin to Mahrez, although playing more centrally, and the Jamie Vardy of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side is 20 year old Timo Werner.
Werner was born in Stuttgart, raised in Stuttgart and went through the youth ranks in Stuttgart. When he made his debut at the start of August 2013, aged just 17 and four months, he took the record for being the clubs youngest ever player, and come his Bundesliga debut, he set up 2 goals in a 6-2 win over Hoffenheim. He continued on to play just over 100 games for the club, with 95 in the Bundesliga, before they were relegated to the second division.
This year has brought a jump in his development, playing in a young, energetic side with plenty of talent. Timo has made 15 of his 17 appearances from the start, has scored 10 goals in that time, making him the fourth top scorer in the league this season, after the usual leaders of the golden boot race, Aubameyang and Lewandowski, as well as ex-Blackburn loanee Anthony Modeste.
Leipzig attack in two ways, through counter attacks and through a high press. We’ve heard a lot of Klopp and the Gegenpress, and this is another example of it working well in the Bundesliga. But we aren’t here to talk tactics, we’re here to talk Timo. So how does he fit in? Hasenhüttl’s side play a 4222 formation, with Forsberg and Sabitzer usually occupying the wide spaces. Werner usually plays alongside Youssef Poulsen or David Selke, both young, pacey, energetic strikers, which reveals a lot of their tactics. The attacking four press the defensive unit when they are in possession, and stay high and alert when the ball is in their own defensive third, ready for a counter attack. This is where Werner comes into his own. His immense pace gives him the advantage over any defender in a foot race, and from his electric pace, he has had more shots, and more goals, from counter attacks than any other player in Europe’s top 5 divisions.
There is one thing Timo Werner can put on his CV that very few others can boast; backing from arguably the best player in the world, Lionel Messi. In 2015, Messi chose 10 players who could be stars of the future, and they received huge sponsorship deals with Adidas. Werner was named in the list, along with Lyon’s Maxwell Cornet and LA Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes. Some others are yet to make a huge impact, such as Kenedy and Accursio Bentivegna, but with the support of one of the all time greats, it won’t be from a lack of talent.
So we have a talented, pacey, energetic striker, backed by Messi to achieve greatness, with four years of top flight experience, at the tender age of 20. Seems like a player a few teams would like to get their hands on, Liverpool and Leicester being the main English candidates. If his development continues, even the likes of Real Madrid will soon be interested, as his style of play would suit Los Blancos perfectly. However, with the shift towards counter attacking and pressing football, anyone would love Werner in their attacking lineup.