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Kai Havertz ready to step out of Eden Hazard's shadow ahead of crunch Champions League showdown after debut season to forget
Could a Champions League semi-final against Europe's most successful side provide the perfect stage for Havertz's coming-of-age performance?
Replacing Eden Hazard was always going to be an almost-impossible task.
The Belgian playmaker left Stamford Bridge a hero having etched his name into Blues folklore winning two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two Europa League trophies in a decorated seven-year stay in west London that ultimately earned him a dream move to Real Madrid in 2019.
Still, in 21-year-old Kai Havertz Chelsea believed they had uncovered the heir to Hazard's throne.
The midfielder, who broke into the Bayer Leverkusen first team aged 17, became one of the most sought-after players in Europe after consistently impressing for the club he had represented since the age of 11.
In 2019 he became the youngest-ever player to reach the 30-goal mark in German football. Reaching landmarks faster than anyone else has become something of a speciality for Havertz.
In December 2020, he also became the youngest player to make 100 Bundesliga appearances – at just 20 years, six months and four days old – having already become the youngest to reach the 50-game mark.
But since then, the former child prodigy's meteoric rise has slowed somewhat.
The languid playmaker has struggled to adapt to the demands of the Premier League following his arrival from Bayer Leverkusen last summer.
Havertz has managed just two league goals and three assists since arriving for a reported £71m. A disappointing return for player whose reputation preceded him.
The 13-cap German international was laid low by COVID-19 in November and was then used mostly as a substitute by manager Thomas Tuchel before picking up an injury last month.
But as Chelsea edge closer to a first Champions League final in nine years, the midfielder says he has finally settled down and sees a bright future for himself at Stamford Bridge.
“It’s been a tough season,” Havertz said after Germany’s 1-0 win over Romania to kick off their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign.
“I know that things haven’t been going smoothly. But I think that’s normal when you first go abroad. It takes half a year or longer to adjust.
“I think that things are going well right now so I don’t want to overthink those negative impressions from the past. I am positive and hope that the next few weeks will be every bit as good.”
Ahead of the biggest game in his young career so far, Havertz is ready to step out of his predecessor's shadow as Chelsea prepare to come face-to-face with Hazard for the first time since he became a Real Madrid player.
When the club appointed Tuchel, the hope was that he would get the best out of the high-profile Germans and while Timo Werner continues to blow hot and cold, there are signs Havertz is beginning to find his feet.
He reminds of Berbatov in how cool, calm and collected he is.
- Rio Ferdinand
In his first few months in England he played out wide in a front three or as part of a midfield three as Frank Lampard tried to get the best out of his marquee summer signing.
But after the shock 5-2 defeat to struggling West Brom, Havertz starred in a false-nine role as Chelsea bounced back to put Crystal Palace to the sword and Selhurst Park.
"I would say he is between a nine and a 10, something in between," said Tuchel.
"He is very comfortable in the box, he is very comfortable in high positions, he is very good in offensive headers.
"He has good timing to arrive in the box, good finishing, good composure in the box, around the box, so between nine and 10."
Having been rested for Chelsea's 1-0 win over top-four rivals West Ham at the weekend, it's expected Havertz will play a major part in Tuesday's Champions League semi-final first leg at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.
He has started seven of the last 11 games in all competitions including, significantly, Chelsea's round of 16 victory over Real's city rivals Atletico.
"He reminds me a little of [Dimitar] Berbatov in how cool, calm and collected he is," said BT Sport pundit Rio Ferdinand ahead of the last 16 second leg.
"We saw when he was at Bayer Leverkusen in previous years that he is a hugely talented footballer and it is going to take him time.
"But in the end, he will get there because he is somebody who has a good feel for the game. Once he gets that part of his game, I think everything will fall into place."
Having shown glimpses of the promise that had a whole host of clubs, including Real Madrid, jostling for his signature, the 21-year-old knows he needs to start producing on a consistent basis to justify Chelsea's outlay.
After struggling to get involved against Porto in the quarter-finals, he knows he must step up again as the class of opposition improves.
Could a meeting with European football's most successful club and the man he was brought into replace provide the perfect stage for Havertz's coming-of-age performance?
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