Kai Havertz: das Wunderkind
Bayer Leverkusen’s exceptionally talented 19-year-old Kai Havertz is unquestionably one of the premier youngsters in world football.
Having just finished his third season at the professional level, he reached new heights in the 2018/2019 campaign, where he was an integral component towards Die Werkself qualifying for the Champions League. Scoring a sensational 17 league goals (ranking him equal third in the scoring charts) and supplying four assists, the ultra-consistent wonderkid, who remarkably played in every one of Leverkusen’s 34 league matches, wreaked havoc throughout the crusade.
Playing with a maturity and confidence that belies his tender years, the way the versatile Havertz has excelled at the highest level on his way to arguably being his team’s most influential player has been incredible.
A masterful technician, the languid youngster’s work with the ball at his feet is a joy to watch. Possessing a wide range of skills, including slick feints, shimmies, drop steps and razor sharp close control to weave away from pressure or beat his man 1v1, he’s definitely a tough man to contain.
Couple this with his brilliant first touch, glue like ball control and agility to change pace or direction in an instant, and this only amplify his threat. Being so comfortable on the ball and resistant to pressure, Havertz notably uses his aptitude here to provoke pressing actions from opponents in both confined space situations, transition or more open play, in order to open up passing lanes to create a free man or just breeze by them.
Helped by his capacity to process scenarios so quickly, he uses persistent head scans and adjusts his body posture to receive the ball in the most ideal position to execute his actions cleanly. Indeed, the way the fleet-footed starlet gets these fundamental details spot on is hugely impressive.
Supplementing the afore with his incisive passing game, Havertz does a sterling job of connecting, constructing and animating Peter Bosz’s men’s offensive forays. Boasting great vision and awareness of his colleagues’ movement, he distributes the ball with clarity and precision. Using his wand of a left foot, the 19-year-old’s shown how effective he can be at cutting open backlines with enviable accuracy. Whether it be via killer through balls, cheeky drinks in behind, crisp cutbacks, lovely intricate combination play in and around the box or with some neat flicks and back heels, he can unlock the opposition in many ways.
Moreover, if he’s operating deeper, he’s proven what an asset he is assisting in build up, recycling possession and shifting the angle of attack with switches to the flank or the half space.
Havertz’s unmistakable ball striking technique also transfers over into his shooting, where the 17 goal star’s blended power, placement, finesse, instinctive finishes and used all different parts of his foot to help him find the back of the net.
Tying everything together superbly with his intelligent movement and spatial understanding, Havertz excels at exploiting gaps within the opposition’s structure through individual and collective mechanisms. Varying his movements excellently and afforded plenty of licences to roam by his manager, this ensures his adversaries have major issues keeping tabs on him. So adept at picking up little pockets of space in between the lines of defence and attack, where he smartly moves laterally to get out of opposition cover shadows to give his colleagues an option, he shines in such instances.
It’s important to note how astutely he contorts his body so he’s ready to receive in advantageous forward facing body shapes so he can inherit possession and keep his upfield momentum going. This is much more ideal than receiving back to goal, something he’s also competent at doing, for it places so much doubt in the mind of defenders and increases the tempo of attacks.
The way he pushes wide into the half spaces and out to the flank notably ensures his team can enjoy a strategic benefit, for it gives them the opportunity to form ideal 4v3 or 3v2s to generate a numerical or positional superiority to bypass their foes easier. Seeing as Havertz often serves as the free man in the half spaces, this gives him a fine platform to operate with more time and space compared to central areas, thus granting him some vital extra room to make his decisions.
Working hard to support his team’s upfield adventures, it’s been admirable how he presents his teammates with viable passing outlets so Leverkusen can move the ball quickly and disrupt the opposition’s stopping structure.
Particularly crucial has been his capacity to help teammates out wide or when he drops deeps, where he provides a useful option while facing forward ready to orchestrate.
Coalescing cohesively with his fellow midfielders and attackers, he’s performed some classy rotations to cause marking dilemmas and subsequent structural issues for his opposition. Stretching, drawing and pinning markers out of shape, these interchanges have been a cornerstone behind Leverkusen’s ability to disorganise backlines. This fluidity has seen him play in a number of different areas of the pitch including out wide, as a central midfielder, in the half spaces, as a 10 and even as a centre forward.
Another area of his game that warrants special attention is his scorching runs in behind. Targeting gaps in between defenders beautifully, his depth runs have been a real highlight.
Furthermore, his penetrative runs from deep zones have been fruitful, which are so hard to track for defences who are dealing with their direct opponents, thus frequently meaning he can receive cutbacks unmarked at the edge of or inside the box.
Upon analysing his statistics through Wyscout’s detailed platform, the fact he ranked second in the league for touches inside the box on 109, 20th for successful dribbles with 127, was the joint most fouled player on 50, embarked on 1.48 progressive runs p90, hit 2.46 shots p90, produced 0.83 shot assists p90 and completed an average of 46 passes p90 at a tidy 89.6% rate duly demonstrates his enormous talent.
Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller‘s glowing praise of Havertz summed him up aptly. “Kai has exceptional abilities and is already blessed with a footballing maturity that sets him apart from other players of his age,” he insisted.
“He is technically good, dangerous in front of goal, and good with his head. After his great start in professional football, we want to push Kai’s development even further. He has huge potential, which will come to the fore even more in the coming years.” When asked what his own strengths were by the Bundesliga’s official website, Havertz‘s answer made complete sense, as he noted: “I guess reading the game has always been one of my strengths. A certain composure on the ball and the ability to make the right choices quickly.”
While Leverkusen will face an uphill battle to keep their prized asset, who is reportedly attracting interest from the likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Arsenal, the €100 million-rated Havertz is apparently keen on staying at Leverkusen for one more campaign at least. Considering he’s been at the club since the age of 11, was pivotal in Die Werkself securing Champions League qualification and can frighteningly still improve in an environment where he’s right at home, remaining for one more year with his boyhood club would be a wise move indeed.