Kai Havertz was dubbed the ‘Crown Prince of German football’ while at Bayer Leverkusen but the Bundesliga club have a new star now: Florian Wirtz.
While his former club colleague has struggled so far to make an impact at Chelsea, Wirtz – the latest young gem to come through at Leverkusen – is dazzling for Peter Bosz’s team, who remain ensconced in the top four despite defeats either side of the mid-season break in Germany’s top flight.
The 17-year-old did not wait long to suggest he could be the heir apparent, either. Having made his debut in May 2020, he became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history the following month, finding the net in a 4-2 defeat to Bayern Munich after coming on as a substitute. Youssoufa Moukoko has since snatched that record away.
This season, Wirtz has gone from the periphery to centre stage, scoring twice and providing four assists in 13 appearances. His transition from promising talent to first-team regular has been swift, leading to comparisons to Havertz, the playmaker who swapped the BayArena for Stamford Bridge.
17y, 15d – With 17 years and 15 days of age, Florian #Wirtz will become @bayer04_en‘s youngest player in their #Bundesliga history and the third youngest overall behind @nurisahin (16y, 11m, 1d) and Yann Aurel Bisseck (16y, 11m, 28d). Generations. #SVWB04 pic.twitter.com/PXUyAk8VxB
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) May 18, 2020
However, for Bosz, while both players have huge potential, the duo differ in so many ways.
“I never compare players with each other because that is impossible. There is no player like the other,” Bosz told Stats Perform News. “You can’t compare them. That’s not possible.
“I also won’t do that with Florian Wirtz, because he has his own style. He is different from Kai Havertz, who is more of a striker. Florian Wirtz, as far as I am concerned, is a midfielder, so you can’t compare them.
“Also, you can’t compare them physically; Kai is 1.92metres (6ft 3in), Florian is shorter. One is left-footed, the other one right-footed. They both have their own style. But both of them are very good. Both are very talented. Both have a huge career ahead of them.
“And Florian is only 17 years old. What he has shown though in the Bundesliga already is something special.”
Wirtz has been a part of a Leverkusen squad that has impressed so far in this campaign, both at home and abroad.
Despite a first defeat to Bayern Munich before the mid-season pause in Germany, Leverkusen gathered 28 points from their opening 13 league games. Only three times have they managed to collect more points across the same period – and on each of those occasions they went on to finish in the top four.
In the Europa League, Die Werkself finished top of Group C to qualify for the last 32 in style, winning five of their six round-robin fixtures. Having reached the quarter-final stage of the competition last year, when they lost 2-1 to Inter, hopes are high they can go further this time around.
Which Leverkusen star has impressed most this season?
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) December 30, 2020
But while there has been much to please Bosz and Leverkusen’s supporters so far, the Dutch coach insists there is still plenty more to come from his squad.
“Everyone still has some space to improve,” he said, insisting no player has reached a nine out of 10 yet. “The difference to last year is that we are very consistent now.
“We deliver stable performances. It means that we concede less goals. We stand more compact on the pitch.
“But we have also lost important players. Kai Havertz went to Chelsea, Kevin Volland to Monaco. I think that our team spirit has improved. This is the biggest step ahead.”
Despite Havertz no longer being around, Leverkusen have been excellent going forward, with champions Bayern the only team to score more in the Bundesliga so far. Their attacking intent has not come at a considerable cost defensively either – only second-placed RB Leipzig have conceded fewer goals.
The emergence of Wirtz has been one of the factors in helping Leverkusen continue to progress as a club, even with those key departures in the previous transfer window.
“He’s a very talented young player. He has a lot more to improve. But, you know, he’s only 17,” Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey told Stats Perform News about his talented young team-mate.
“He’s still learning. But he has a lot of qualities that a lot of older players don’t have yet. And that’s something you can see clearly, and this is something that’s special.
“And I think, as the years go by, he will only get better. There is a lot more to come from him, as he understands more and get a lot more experience.
“I would say he’s very smart. He has a lot of quality when he’s on the ball. And he has a great passing ability.”
Bailey’s assessment is backed up by Wirtz’s output, with no Leverkusen player having created more chances from open play than his tally of 23. While his passing accuracy is perhaps lower than might be hoped for at 73 per cent, his touches in the opposing box (31) and passes into the final third (55) are examples of his forward thinking when in possession.
Those risks have reaped their rewards this term too, considering his six goal contributions so far. Bosz clearly has faith in him, as only goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky and Moussa Diaby have played more minutes in the Bundesliga so far.
Any suggestion of becoming the new Havertz may be wide of the mark, but the future looks bright for Wirtz, the latest jewel to emerge at Leverkusen.
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