Kai Havertz unable to shake off biggest problem of first Chelsea season with flawed Germany
As the dust settled on last night’s remarkable conclusion to Group F, it was easy to forget about Kai. This is a Germany team with deep flaws and England, despite the weight of history, should not fear them when they arrive at Wembley next Tuesday evening. From defensive uncertainty to a lack of coherent thinking in attack against teams willing to sit deep and counter, Jogi Low’s side do not yet appear contenders. Then again, this is Germany; those cliches exist for a reason.
Their fluctuating fortunes in the past 10 days have been epitomised by Kai Havertz, Chelsea’s Champions League winner and arguably Die Mannschaft’s best performer of a troubled pool stage despite being substituted in all three fixtures and widely criticised in the German media after the opener.
The 22-year-old’s final act in Munich last night was their first equaliser, even though parity lasted no more than a minute as a determined Hungary side, making up for their lack of ability with admirable commitment, went up the other end to score a second. Havertz’s goal was the culmination of a decent personal performance in perplexing circumstances. It was also typical Havertz, as an outing in which he continuously appeared to be his team’s spark predominantly lacked cutting edge.
That was the story of his first campaign at Stamford Bridge too. Last week he owned up to feeling overwhelmed to be following in the footsteps of so many big names, telling Sueddeutsche Zeitung that he was expected to instantly perform like Ronaldo and that led to him feeling nervous before games.
But there remains a feeling that the whole package coming together with regularity is always just around the corner even if, simultaneously, a myth around his work ethic persists.
Much of it is down to Havertz’s deceptive appearance. For those not paying close attention his languid style can falsely translate into laziness. In Germany’s opening defeat to France, a 1-0 scoreline failing to tell the story of the world champions’ dominance, he covered more ground than any player in the 74 minutes before his removal for Serge Gnabry and still faced a barrage of criticism from some in the German media because of a perceived lack of effort. In reality there was plenty; execution was the problem.
Havertz went a long way to ameliorating that in the 4-2 win over Portugal despite calls for him to be dropped. His ability to ghost into the penalty area made life a misery for the 38-year-old Pepe and Premier League player of the season Ruben Dias and one goal could easily have been three.
By the time he was replaced by Thomas Muller last night, immediately after scoring the goal that looked to be sending through until they conceded again within a minute no German player had clocked up more than his 8.43km. Havertz does not stop moving, accusations of laziness are misplaced.
He continuously looked like the most dangerous member of a German team that was flat and disjointed. There was a driving run down the right after 17 minutes that ended with a dangerous low cross which Peter Gulasci did well to divert away, while his next direct burst earned the corner from which Mats Hummels rocked the frame of Hungary’s goal.
On the cusp of half-time Havertz saw a low shot blocked before scuffing the rebound wide just as Karim Benzema was drawing level for France against Portugal in Budapest with a disputed penalty kick. A couple of minutes after the Real Madrid man had put Les Bleus in front, temporarily putting Hungary on course for Wembley at 5pm next Tuesday, Havertz drilled an attempt straight at Gulasci.
Events in the Hungarian capital remained irrelevant for as long as Germany trailed and then Havertz’s moment arrived. It was not his most beautiful goal but he found himself in the right place and the right time, again timing his run into the area to perfection to head in from a yard.
There seemed to be some doubt from Muller as he prepared to come on during the celebrations, signalling to Low if it was still for Havertz but the switch was made and the impact of his goal was immediately overwritten.
From an outside perspective, Low’s pre-planned departure, with his replacement Hansi Flick observing from the stands in Munich, seems to have been lingering like a dark cloud long before this tournament began.
It was fitting, then, that a remarkable storm erupted during the opening half of a game that could easily have been his last. Leon Goretzka ensured that would not be the case but it is Havertz one suspects will need a big performance in north west London to inflict another slice of misery on England.