Look. I’m not going to say he’s lit the world alight nor will I say he’s done enough to prove his critics (the rational ones, at least) wrong. However, there’s a certain degree of confirmation bias going on here, and there’s really only one way for Havertz to overcome that—by scoring a few goals. Too many fans focus too much attention on that one stat, vital though it obviously is. Havertz is doing a lot of things right. The goals will come. Until, that anti-Havertz agenda will be the 800-pound gorilla in the corner (why didn’t I use that idiom in the Brentford preview? I’m letting standards slip.).
By many standards, Havertz outperformed Smith Rowe against Brentford, but he didn’t score. Then again, neither did the Smith. And yet, our post-match poll deigned to rate him at 6.76 to Havertz’s 6.11. To my memory, Havertz was, if anything, more-effective than Smith Rowe. I’m not alone in that. Sofascore rated the two at 7.0 (shown in blue in the graphic above). Whoscored went even further, rating Havertz at 7.2 to Smith Rowe’s 7.0. These ostensibly more-objective ratings systems have their own flaws, of course (Mustafi, despite being a shambolic defender, would occasionally earn solid ratings just because he’d scored a goal).
As for our poll, I’ve never pretended that they’d be objective, so they’re at least honest in that regard. Havertz’s low score reflects that broader agenda just as much as it does his performance, but let’s face it: few were at their stellar best against Brentford.
When it comes to the Havertz-Smith Rowe comparison, Havertz not only suffers the “Chelsea reject” label but also the “he’s an academy product”. No small part of Smith Rowe’s superior rating reflects the fact that we’re far more willing to extend warm feelings of affection to him; after all, it was his first start in 499 days. The return of a somewhat prodigal son was always going to warm the proverbial cockles, but it almost certainly was watched through very rose-coloured glasses. Whatever rust, flaws, or mistakes were in Smith Rowe’s debut were forgiven.
By contrast, any mistake Havertz made or will make will be put under a microscope and dissected. Other mistakes will be imagined and projected onto him. To a degree, that’s fair. He’s being paid handsomely (reliable numbers can be hard to come by, but I’ve seen a weekly wage of £250k) and will have to produce if he’s to silence those critics, rational or otherwise. The best way to do that in the short term is of course to score. He should get some chances at the Vitality Stadium this weekend; Bournemouth aren’t shipping goals, but they have been porous. Even if they did dump our old nemesis Stoke out of the League Cup, I have to hope that Havertz does finally break his duck.
In the meantime, though, stop ball-watching. Make yourself focus on Havertz’s moment off the ball. Ask yourself whether he’s making himself available, if he’s finding space between the lines, if he’s making runs. Chances are, he’s doing a lot more than you might be giving him credit for. Of course, that’s not quite the same as saying he deserves more credit. There might be enough in it to moderate the criticism, whether that refers to the quantity, the tone, or a delicate mélange of both.
If nothing else, we have to hope that he’ll prove his worth. He’s with us until January at the earliest. Those who hope he fails really should give themselves a good, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves if that ugly mug is screwed on right.