The 91st Minute is a column by Sam Reno about professional soccer.
On Nov. 7, 2020, Timo Werner found the back of the net in a 4-1 rout of Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge. One-hundred days later on Feb. 15, 2021, he converted a Mason Mount corner kick to give Chelsea a 2-0 victory against Newcastle.
Those 100 days saw both the high and low watermarks of Chelsea’s 2020-21 season, but its end seems to bring with it a new dawn for the Blues. Let’s take a look at the roller coaster that was the Timo Werner goal drought, what Chelsea should learn from it and what might lay on the other side.
Following that victory against Sheffield United, Werner remained in good form, producing two assists over their next two victories against Newcastle and Rennes. He appeared to score the winner against first-place Tottenham before he was ruled offside in the 0-0 draw.
The club’s good form continued with a dominant 4-0 victory away at Sevilla, punching its ticket to the knockout stage of the Champions League. Up next was Leeds United, heated rival of Frank Lampard.
During Lampard’s time at Derby County two seasons ago, Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa sent “spies” to the Derby training ground ahead of their clash in the promotion playoffs. Lampard took offense to the act, Leeds fans took offense to his offense and Bielsa pleaded, embarrassingly, he was unaware of its illegality. Lampard’s Derby County went on to knock Leeds out of the promotion playoffs and prevented it from reaching the Premier League that season. Needless to say, Leeds don’t like Lampard and Lampard doesn’t like Leeds.
Werner added another assist while Chelsea took care of Leeds 3-1 in front of the 2,000 supporters that were welcomed back into Stamford Bridge for the first time that night. Following the match, a fired-up Lampard went and applauded the fans with a giant smile on his face as the supporters responded with a standing ovation.
As night fell on West London, Chelsea was now unbeaten in its last 16 matches, winners of Champions League Group E and alone at the top of the Premier League table.
Lampard trounced his rival and Chelsea emphatically announced itself as a title contender. After a long history of sacking managers without hesitation, it appeared that Lampard, given his legendary status at the club and early success, was poised to flip the script.
However, Chelsea managed just one victory over its next six fixtures, a run which included a 3-1 beatdown at the hands of then fifteenth-place Arsenal. Werner took 12 shots over this stretch, but only two on target and zero landed in net.
Due to injuries, lack of production elsewhere on the field and potential pressure from the board to get the expensive transfer going, Werner remained in the starting 11, but still could not find the back of the net. Visually, he became more and more defeated with each failed chance to convert.
After falling to Leicester City, which concluded a stretch of two wins in eight matches, Chelsea was now level on points with tenth place West Ham United. Werner had not scored in 78 days and Chelsea’s hopes of finishing top four were dwindling fast. The club made the difficult decision to sack manager Frank Lampard, the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, after just 18 months at the helm.
The pressure on Werner was now crushing, with many blaming Lampard’s firing on his inability to produce for the club. It was impossible not to feel for him, for he continued to make runs on goal and create chances, but the results just were not there. He had now gone 78 days without scoring and the link between his play and the sacking was nearly impossible to ignore.
The club turned to former Dortmund and PSG manager Thomas Tuchel, who implemented immediate changes, most notably the switch to a back three. With his game-breaking speed, Werner was adding assists, winning penalties and creating nearly every chance for Chelsea as it went unbeaten in Tuchel’s first five matches.
Then, on Feb. 15, 2021, the dam finally burst. Werner converted a Mason Mount corner kick, giving him his first goal in 100 days. The nightmare was over at long last.
Chelsea, for the first time since Dec. 4th, now finds itself in the top four, having won its last four matches. More impressive, Werner was responsible for all five goals in their last three victories, including the goal against Newcastle 100 days after his last.
However, I believe it is irresponsible to point to the new manager as the reason for the turnaround. It was Lampard who stuck by Werner, playing him each week amid calls for both of their replacements. In his final match as manager, Lampard deployed Werner as almost an attacking midfielder to play alongside Tammy Abraham in a strike partnership, and he played extremely well in that role which he now occupies under Tuchel.
In those 100 days, Chelsea saw itself as high as first and as low as tenth, one manager in and another one out and a world-class striker fight his way through struggles he’d never faced before, but they never saw the silver lining.
The German striker was given time, opportunities and the trust of Lampard despite Werner’s immense struggles. Something Chelsea as a club has never afforded its managers.
The days of spending incredible amounts of money, hiring and firing its way to titles are over. Even a club as small as Aston Villa spent crazy money in the last transfer window. Clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United have remained patient with managers and are currently reaping the benefits. Liverpool has a Champions League and Premier League title to its name and Manchester United is in the thick of the title race.
Lampard was sacked after just five matches of poor form, despite his success the previous season amid a transfer ban and having spent only half a season with his first batch of signings, many of whom have dealt with injuries.
Werner is a prime example of what patience and trust can produce for a club, and, until the same is granted to its managers, Chelsea could find itself struggling to remain consistently atop the Premier League.
The 91st Minute runs every Wednesday.