Timo Werner wasn’t supposed to be at RB Leipzig on September 2nd. Having rejected a new contract and openly discussed a potential move to Bayern Munich as well as his desire to hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ after clinically rattling home half a century of league goals in the last three seasons, Europe’s elite were understandably keen. Werner, however, had a change of heart and, as his hat trick in the 3-1 win at Borussia Monchengladbach this weekend underlined, that decision could be pivotal in deciding the future of the Bundesliga title.
Against Gladbach, Werner was at his exacting best. Neat interplay with the standout Forsberg and strength to shrug off Mathias Ginter afforded him the chance to slip the ball under Yann Sommer before half time for the opener. Smart reactions to partner-in-crime Youssuf Poulsen’s flick and explosive pace took him away from Nico Elvedi to calmly beat Sommer again before capitalizing on Ginter’s wayward header to slot home his third in injury time to seal the win.
Werner now has five goals in Leipzig’s first three Bundesliga games, the increasingly clinical nature of his finishing obvious; opening the scoring with an intelligent hooked finish from a corner against Frankfurt and slamming home a powerful third on the opening day at Union Berlin. Indeed, Kicker reported that across those three wins RBL as a whole only needed 4.4 attempts to score compared to 7.9 last season.
As pointed out by Opta this weekend, a tally of 68 Bundesliga goals following an August 2013 top tier debut makes Werner the league’s highest scoring German in that period and since joining from Stuttgart in Summer 2016 Werner has contributed 55 of those Bundesliga goals in just 96 outings (66 in 118 in all competitions). He has repeatedly shown that, with his lightening movement off the ball, pace on it, nimble feet and precise finishing, he is capable of scoring all types of goals.
The swift shifting of the ball before rifling home from the edge of the area in April’s 4-2 win at Leverkusen, an astute arching of his run before nodding past Pavao Pervan for RBL’s second in a 2-0 over Wolfsburg and reacting quickest to a Werder Bremen mix-up to opportunistically skip past Jiri Pavlenka in December all underlined his versatility. Inside the penalty area Werner seems to move twice as fast as the rest; his intensity and ruthlessness proving difficult to match.
At just 23, as fellow former Stuttgart forward Mario Gomez highlighted before the 2018 World Cup, Werner still has much to contribute. “We need a Timo Werner in this form at the World Cup if,” Gomez told Sportbild, “we want to become world champions.” Werner, Gomez said, could “dominate” in Germany for the “next ten years”. Crucially however such form never materialised. Despite starting all three of Germany’s group games in Russia, Werner failed to score and missed several clear cut chances as Germany meekly crashed out in the group stages.
Despite the striker’s form either side of that tournament, those three games may have diminished his stock sufficiently to keep him at Leipzig despite widespread interest, with rumoured moves both this and last off-season failing to emerge. With his contract expiring in 2020, Werner had initially refused to sign an extension with RBL to aid in edging him toward an exit sooner rather than later – Kicker excluding any notion of an extension as recently as May – but Werner surprisingly agreed to a new deal as late as last week, with suitors less than forthcoming.
Having extended his deal to 2023 and receiving a sizeable wage bump in the process, Werner highlighted the role of both his national and domestic coaches in his change of heart. This summer Joachim Löw “wanted to know what I was aiming for, but at the time I was not sure yet” Werner told Welt, “but he made me understand that Julian Nagelsmann is a good coach and that I could take another step in my development under him.” Nagelsmann meanwhile “immediately signaled that he is counting on me, that I have great potential and he wants to improve me, he wanted me to stay.” Werner was convinced.
Nevertheless an eventual move seems inevitable but, for now, options still appear limited. At Christmas Werner conceded that “if you play in Germany for RB Leipzig and you want to stay in Germany, there is only one club to which you can switch.” When pushed if he was referring to Bayern he said: “That would be the conclusion, yes.” Meanwhile the player had previously told Sportbild in 2017 that as a Liverpool player “to hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ would be special.”
Even so Werner, perhaps refreshingly for a player of his generation, often reiterates the positive effect of his continued stay at Leipzig, explaining; ”I’m not afraid to extend a contract with a good, ambitious and attractive German club like RB Leipzig.” The German has described Leipzig as a “milestone in my career… even if I change clubs in one, two or ten years, Leipzig will always be the club that made me what I am.” Werner remains humble and seemingly still in awe of his upward curve in recent times, telling Kicker on international duty in March that “I would be lying if I said that I still have to rub my eyes when I am sitting between Thomas (Müller) and Mesut (Özil).”
Leipzig’s hierarchy have also remained staunch in their defence of the player’s position. Rangnick had always insisted that the “scenario that Timo leaves on a free transfer in the summer of 2020 does not exist.” In June, Rangnick said “I believe that Timo does not think it’s a good idea to go into a final contract year. Depending on how his performance turns out, it could also be difficult with the fans, which would be a pity,” Rangnick explained in Kicker. “Timo fits best here, also as far as the style of play is concerned. If I were his advisor or father I would advise him to stay and extend. And when a really big club comes in and wants it [he] can still take it.”
Bayern Munich, most likely to be that big club, Bild say, are now happy to wait until next Summer to move more aggressively for Werner despite his new contract with the two clubs some way apart on their relative valuations for now; €60m versus €30m according to Süddeutsche Zeitung. As Red Bull CEO Dietrich Mateschitz told Blick earlier this year: “The player will not be cheap.”
With Werner thoroughly ensconced in their ranks, his hat-trick on Friday drawing a rare 1 out of 6 rating from Kicker, Leipzig are given the impression of title contenders. Still committed to the Leipzig style espoused by ideological spearhead Ralf Rangnick and Ralph Hasenhüttl beforehand, Julien Nagelsmann has started to instigate a slow evolution at the Red Bull Arena with an ability to utilise a more considered possession style that emerged in the win over Gladbach. “We are still at the beginning,” said Nagelsmann in the aftermath, but this was “the best game of the three so far.” With Werner on board, worryingly for the rest, Naglesmann’s Leipzig are only going to get better.
With new signings Ivan Perisic and Phillipe Coutinho joining fellow newcomers Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez in the starting eleven, Bayern were back to their effortlessly ruthless best as they swatted away early Mainz resistance – Jean Paul Boetius giving the visitors the lead in the 6th minute – to run out 6-1 winners at the Allianz on Saturday afternoon. Both Pavard and Perisic joined teenage winger Alphonso Davies in scoring as six different goalscorers contributed to returning Bayern to second place. It’s come later than expected but Bayern have strengthened as promised and normal service could well be resumed rather swiftly as the champions travel to leaders Leipzig after the international break.
Amid an aggressively boisterous atmosphere at Stadion An der Alten Försterei, the league’s second smallest venue, Union Berlin dealt the first blow to Borussia Dortmund’s title charge on Saturday evening. Either side of Paco Alcacer’s sixth goal in five games this season, a brace courtesy of summer signing from now third tier Magdeburg Marius Bulter put Union ahead just after halftime before last season’s top scorer Sebastian Andersson ended a weak Dortmund challenge with 15 minutes to play. Crucially this was Dortmund’s fourth loss from their last six against promoted sides, a record that needs to change if they are to wrestle the title away from Bavaria.
By Adam White.