RB Leipzig have turned to Hwang Hee-chan (l.) to help compensate for the loss of Timo Werner (r.) to Chelsea. - © imago/ DFL
RB Leipzig have turned to Hwang Hee-chan (l.) to help compensate for the loss of Timo Werner (r.) to Chelsea. - © imago/ DFL
bundesliga

Hwang Hee-chan: RB Leipzig's natural successor to Timo Werner?

Julian Nagelsmann has described replacing the goals of Timo Werner like-for-like as "an impossible task". Is Hwang Hee-chan going to prove the RB Leipzig head coach wrong? bundesliga.com investigates...

Werner scored 78 goals and assisted 31 in 127 Bundesliga appearances across his four seasons on the Leipzig books, before moving to Chelsea in June 2020. The Germany international was the club's perennial top scorer, and broke the 20-goal barrier twice. He tallied a career-best 28 in 2019/20, which equates to 34.5 percent of Leipzig's total 81 league goals - 44 percent if you include his eight assists.

After Werner, Leipzig's next-best marksman was Roma loanee Patrik Schick, who recently joined Bayer Leverkusen on the back of a 10-goal spree in the Rückrunde, followed by nine-goal midfielder Marcel Sabitzer. Attacker Christopher Nkunku and long-serving forward Yussuf Poulsen helped themselves to five goals apiece, whilst sharing 22 assists. Emil Forsberg also scored five, despite playing more of a bit-part role. Dani Olmo hit three in his last six games of 2019/20 - again from midfield.

Watch: Julian Nagelsmann's Leipzig under the tactical microscope

"Replacing the goals of Timo is a big challenge," admitted Julian Nagelsmann in a pre-season interview with SportBild. "Obviously you can't do it like-for-like, so we'll have to share out his [34 goals and 13 assists] between more players."

Since Werner's departure, Leipzig have played three times competitively. On 14 August, Die Roten Bullen dispatched Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, thanks to efforts from Olmo and US international utility man Tyler Adams. Following the semi-final defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, and a week before their 2020/21 Bundesliga opener against Mainz, Nagelsmann's side made very light work of second tier Nuremberg in the DFB Cup first round, coasting to a 3-0 win.

Sharing the goal-scoring load on that occasion were midfielder Amadou Haidara, second-half substitute Poulsen and new signing Hwang, who also chalked up a debut assist in the No.11 shirt he has inherited from Werner.

"He's not a guy who will score 35 goals, but he'll really hurt the opposition with his pace and runs from deep," Nagelsmann said of Hwang before the game. "You only have to look at his thighs - he's a real handful for opposition defenders. He can run at the opposition, play with his back to goal and create chances. He wasn't quite at 100 percent when he arrived, but he's been great in recent weeks."

Nuremberg clearly didn't heed the warning. Despite having the fewest number of touches of all Leipzig starters at the Max Morlock-Stadion, Hwang was one of the most effective. He converted one of his three shots on goal, and chalked up a direct assist from the same ratio of passes to a shot. The 24-year-old finished a contest he began through the middle but popped up left and right with a passing accuracy of 85 percent, misplacing only four of his 29 attempts to find a man, and didn't stray offside once. And while there's no numerical measure of his pressing level, it appeared highly efficient on the eye. It's part of the reason Leipzig brought him in from sister club Red Bull Salzburg in the first place.

"Hwang has already proved that he can make his mark at a high level," Leipzig sporting director Markus Krösche told kicker. "He can play in any attacking position, on the wings or as a main man in the middle. He makes our attack more flexible with his speed and mobility. He had a great season in Austria, as both a goalscorer and provider, and he particularly impressed in the Champions League. He also works really hard for the team. He fits our philosophy perfectly."

Hwang (l.) has finely tuned his feint to shoot, as Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (r.) knows all too well. - PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

A student of high-pressing, aggressive football, Hwang did more than register 16 goals and 21 assists in 38 matches for Austrian double-winners Salzburg in 2019/20. He attempted - and won - more challenges than Werner in all areas of the pitch, tirelessly closing opposition passing lanes in his team's half, the centre of midfield and final third. His superior number of dribble attempts speak to his confidence levels; the way he put Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk on his back in the UEFA Champions League group stage teases his X-factor. The fact he has accumulated more bookings can be put down to raw enthusiasm rather than a glaring fault in his energetic game.

Werner leads the way for goals, assists and all-round experience, but he did make his Bundesliga debut when most of us are still plucking up the courage to ask someone to go to prom. Starting VfB Stuttgart's UEFA Europa League qualifier at Botev Plovdiv on 1 August 2013, the now Chelsea forward was in fact just four months and 23 days past his 17th birthday, and still ranks as the youngest player in the south-west outfit's history.

Hwang has been loving life with Leipzig in preparation for his first Bundesliga season with the club. - imago images

Hwang was almost two years older upon the moment of his professional debut, in the Austrian second division with Liefering, but 'the Bull' is fast catching up with 'Turbo Timo'. Capable of getting the job done with or without a strike partner, very much in the same vein as Werner, he left Salzburg with 45 goals and 28 assists in 124 matches to his name, and is already a 32-time South Korea international. Tactically, he is tailor-made to play the Leipzig way; technically he might just be the perfect candidate to fill the vaunted boots of the Saxony club's record scorer.

Chris Mayer-Lodge