bundesliga

Is Kai Havertz a better striker than midfielder?

Kai Havertz may only have started to play up front for Bayer Leverkusen in the second half of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season, but with seven goals and one assist in the position, perhaps he should have been there all along?

Leverkusen's youngest ever goalscorer and the fastest player in history to reach a century of Bundesliga appearances - at the tender age of 20 years, six months and four days - Havertz has long been seen as the natural successor to legendary midfielder Michael Ballack for club and country.

And yet by the time Leverkusen welcomed Bayern Munich to the BayArena in June, it was the No.9 standing opposite - Robert Lewandowski - whom King Kai had come to most resemble in recent weeks and months.

Head-to-head, Kai Havertz's (r.) numbers as a striker are beginning to stack up to Robert Lewandowski's (r.). - imago images / Team 2

Havertz was Bayer's top scorer last season with 17 goals in all competitions. That is only seven fewer than strikers Kevin Volland and Lucas Alario had put together, and yet it wasn't until that pair tore ankle ligaments and dislocated a shoulder respectively in the early part of this year that Havertz was used up front on something approaching a full-time basis.

Havertz the attacking midfielder has seemed so natural in the last few years. Since the start of 2018/19, he has completed 88 percent of his passes with his wand of a left foot - a significant number when playing in the final third, trying to thread the ball through the eye of a needle to a forward up ahead.

The seven-time Germany international has teed up 87 chances from his 41 games at attacking midfield over the period in question, at a rate of one every 42 minutes. His four starts for the national team - against Russia, Serbia, Argentina and Estonia - were from midfield, and returned two assists (as well as a goal in the 2-2 draw with Argentina).

Bayer Leverkusen pair Kai Havertz (l.) and Lucas Alario (r.) were both on target when Germany drew 2-2 with Argentina in October 2019. - imago images / Jan Huebner

"With Havertz I asked myself after the first time he trained with us whether he could've already been with us for a year or two," enthused Mannschaft coach Joachim Löw. "It seemed as if he'd always played with the others." Lothar Matthäus - another iconic former Germany midfielder - even predicted Havertz could one day succeed him as a World Footballer of the Year.

So what changed? Why fix it if it ain't broken? When Volland got injured at the tail end of Leverkusen's 2-1 win over Porto in the UEFA Europa League in February, Werkself coach Peter Bosz could still call upon Alario - a natural striker who had scored one and assisted another for Argentina in the aforementioned friendly draw with Germany at the Signal Iduna Park. But he followed Volland into the Bayer medical bay just four games later.

To some degree Bosz's hand was forced, but the Dutchman deserves credit for spotting what many others had missed. He didn't need to change his system, draft in an emergency loan or repurpose Paulinho: Havertz's profile and skill-set were perfectly suited to leading the line.

The same turn of pace and top speed of 21.7 miles per hour can be used just as effectively off the shoulder of the last defender as it can breaking through the lines in midfield. Although his 6'2"-tall frame remains on the svelte side, Havertz still wins nearly half of his duels.

Watch: All of Havertz's goals and assists in 2019/20

But most impressive is the degree to which maker has become taker. Havertz has converted 100 percent - every single one - of his goalscoring opportunities since going up front. In 2020, Yann Sommer, Rafal Gikiewicz, Lukas Hradecky and Kevin Trapp were four of the very best Bundesliga shot-stoppers who found themselves fishing an ice-cold Havertz finish out of their nets.

Bayern's goal-fiend Lewandowski sealed his fourth Torjägerkanone in five seasons after scoring 15 goals in the Rückrunde. Havertz was only five behind, despite missing two games with muscular complaints.

Lewy was once told he was too skinny to make it in the game. He has filled out into one of the best strikers the sport has ever seen. Havertz is fast growing into his magisterial nickname, and now, it's Lewandowski's crown he has in his sights.