RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann believes Timo Werner has become an ever better player in 2019/20, but says Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski remains the touchstone of all modern strikers.
The top scorer's race between Werner and Lewandowski has been a key subplot in the title race. Leipzig lead the standings, thanks in no small part to Werner's 20 goals, but a shock defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt coupled with Bayern's 5-0 rout of Schalke, in which Lewandowski struck for the 21st time this season, enabled the defending champions to close the gap to one point after 19 matches.
Nagelsmann spoke to bundesliga.com about the two sharpest shooters in the Bundesliga, the role of the modern striker and Leipzig's aspirations...
bundesliga.com: Julian Nagelsmann, who is the perfect striker right now?
bundesliga.com: "I think Robert Lewandowski is probably number one in Europe at the moment. Karim Benzema I like a lot, too. Timo Werner is of a different style, he has a great record – it depends a bit on how the team wants to play, the striker needs to fit the idea of the coach and the idea of the team. Lewandowski fits very well: he has a very good mix of classic striker traits – in the box, he’s very dangerous in front of goal, he’s very good from crosses and in the air, two-footed, he has a very interesting build, he’s tall but still very quick. He’s instinctive and also very good between the lines – he can play as a number 10, he isn’t just someone who has to have the final goalscoring touch, he can also play the final ball. And when it’s 4-0 and he doesn’t have to score any more, he has no problem helping his team keep the ball for 25 minutes, and that’s extraordinary."
bundesliga.com: You said Timo Werner "is a different style" - tells us a bit more...
Nagelsmann: "Yeah, it’s part of the reason why we’ve started him a bit deeper, we don’t want him right on the last line, because he needs a bit of a head start, a bit of tempo, in order to really show his pace on the pitch. When he’s on the last line, he often finds himself static when he needs to get going, but with a bit of room in front of him, he can hit top speed. And from this deeper position, he’s much more involved in our build-up play and combinations. In the last few years all his moments have come in transition, whereas now he has his moments in combination play too. He’s having many more touches of the ball than in previous years, and this new position has done his development good, playing in between the lines against teams who sit deep. That’s another trait he’ll need if he wants to be one of the best in Europe. There are a lot of teams who sit deep and defend deep against you, and he needs that second way of being dangerous to opponents too, and he’s definitely developed that this year."
Watch: A closer look at the ever-improving Timo Werner
bundesliga.com: Do you think a striker's role has changed?
Nagelsmann: "Strikers are definitely more involved in the build-up than before. In days gone by there were many classic 'penalty-box' strikers who were primarily responsible for putting away crosses and cutbacks, which led to some amazing goalscoring records from some strikers. Today you’re much more involved in the combinations. I think teams overall defend much more tactically, so it’s not always as easy to create chances. You need all 10 outfield players involved to create chances, and the striker is often tasked with changing positions. Now there’s a new positional profile with the nine-and-a-half, a bit more like the old number 10, where you go between the lines and don’t just play as the buffer up front like in old times. It’s changed a bit."
bundesliga.com: Why do you think that is?
Nagelsmann: "The athletic side of the sport is a bit different. When you look at Werner or Lewandowski, they’re total athletes. Gerd Müller was unbelievable in the box, very powerful, and he had a very good eye for goal, he held the ball up. I’m not sure he would score as many goals if he were playing today – nowadays, you need incredible athleticism and dynamism like Timo Werner or Robert Lewandowksi, or Mario Gomez, who had amazing movement, I think he was one of the first strikers who always moved against the defenders as they shifted around, which wasn’t so easy for a defence. Things have changed a bit even more since Mario Gomez was in his pomp, but he was a good role model, and you can see how the dynamics have changed so much. Gerd Müller scored, I’m not sure exactly, 95 per cent of his goals from inside the box and he was set up by teammates for many situations, but nowadays when you look at Timo Werner or Lewandowski, who are always drifting out to the wings, you can see how much the profile and the movement of strikers has really changed."
bundesliga.com: Leipzig are enjoying their fourth season of Bundesliga football - what should the club stand for?
Nagelsmann: "For young, hungry players, who attack bravely, who try to put the opponent under pressure, and then ideally – like this year – who score a combination of goals on the counter, and goals from possession - always held together with good control of the game, and lots of speed."
bundesliga.com: Leipzig are top of the table after 19 matches. What's possible this season?
Nagelsmann: "I hope the maximum! But first of all, it’s on us to perform on the pitch. But anything is possible."