According to reports from German publication SPORTBILD, Chelsea are one of a number of clubs monitoring 18-year-old Bayer Leverkusen attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz.
The youngster has had a superb start to the season, contributing nine goals and assists in the opening seven league games, the joint third highest in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues with Mohamed Salah, behind only Erling Haaland and Karim Benzema.
Despite only turning 18 in May, Wirtz represents an elite prospect, having made his full Germany debut last month, and has attracted interest from German giants Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and the Manchester clubs. Chelsea have a strong relationship with Leverkusen after paying over £70 million for Kai Havertz last summer, and will look to capitalise on this to wrap up a deal for the highly-sought midfielder in the coming transfer windows.
What kind of player is Wirtz, and what could he contribute to a Chelsea side in the future?
Career to date
Wirtz progressed through the academy at FC Köln - joining at the age of seven, before joining Leverkusen in January 2020. After making his debut against Werder Bremen in May, Wirtz overtook Kai Havertz as Leverkusen’s youngest ever player aged 17 years and 15 days, before a goal in a 2-4 loss to Bayern 19 days later rendered him the youngest goal scorer in Bundesliga history at the time.
Wirtz also started the Europa League last 16 second leg tie versus Rangers, before Die Werkself were knocked out in the following round by Inter Milan, picking up just under 480 minutes across the season.
Wirtz’s involvement with the senior team rose from nine games to 38 in all competitions in the 2020/21 season, as Leverkusen finished 6th with 52 points, again qualifying for the Europa League. Wirtz contributed 11 goals and assists in the league, becoming the first under 18-year-old to reach five Bundesliga goals - this included a last-minute winner in the 2-1 home win over Borussia Dortmund in January.
The youngster also accumulated experience in the Europa League, missing just one game in Leverkusen’s campaign, including a goal and assist in the 2-4 away win over Hapoel Beer Sheva in Group C. To top off a superb campaign, Wirtz won the 2021 under-21 Euros with Germany, scoring twice in the semis against the Netherlands, and starting in the final against Portugal.
Moving into the 2021/22 season, Wirtz has arguably been one of the standout performers across Europe’s top leagues. The youngster has scored four and assisted five in six games - averaging a goal contribution every 41 minutes, as Leverkusen sit joint top with Bayern with five wins, one draw, and one loss apiece.
Wirtz has also scored in both of the first two Europa League group games against Ferencváros and Celtic, becoming the highest scoring teenager in European competition since the beginning of the 2020/21 season with four goals. This form saw Wirtz called up for the German senior national team, making appearances off the bench against Liechtenstein, Armenia and Iceland.
Wirtz has been ranked as Leverkusen’s best performer so far this season by WhoScored, and the sixth best in the Bundesliga overall, and has a huge future in the game ahead of him, with the links to top clubs coming as to no surprise to those who have been following the player’s career so far.
Style of play
Leverkusen have deployed a 4-2-3-1 setup in their opening seven league games under Gerardo Seoane, with Wirtz operating in the ‘Number 10’ role behind Czech striker Patrik Schick (who has himself scored six goals), and Paulinho and Moussa Diaby providing width. Wirtz also has experience on both wings from his academy days, as well as deeper in midfield in a potential 4-3-3, and is a versatile option across the attacking line.
In Leverkusen’s setup, Wirtz has the freedom to cover a lot of ground and influence the game in a number of attacking positions. This is evident with his heat-map across the last Bundesliga season, often interchanging with other attackers in transitional play and counter attacks:
Standing at 5’10, Wirtz is already an assured and confident attacker, and excels at chance creation for his teammates, as well as a deadly element of end product and the ability to finish chances.
In terms of the former aspect, Wirtz ranks in the top 3% across wingers/attacking midfielders in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues for assists per 90 (0.37), expected assists per 90 (0.25), key passes per 90 (2.31), through balls per 90 (0.46) and shot-creating actions per 90 (4.15).
Wirtz is a central creative outlet to Leverkusen’s attack, and this is reflected in his elite numbers of both expected assists and actual assists - evidencing both his positional sense, and the ability to execute superb passes for teammates.
When compared to Chelsea’s Kai Havertz, his compatriot lags behind with 0.19 assists per 90, 0.96 key passes per 90, 0.04 through balls per 90, and 2.41 shot-creating actions per 90.
As well as providing an outstanding creative element to Leverkusen’s game, Wirtz also has the end product to match. His goals per 90 (0.40), expected goals per 90 (0.22) and shots on target per 90 (0.71) all rank in the top 4% for European attackers, again illustrating his tendency to get into excellent goal-scoring positions, and finish the chances he receives.
Perhaps Wirtz’s talent was best displayed in the 0-4 away win over Celtic in September. The German scored Leverkusen’s second goal with a right-footed finish in the 34th minute, as well as playing two key passes, four accurate long balls, and creating one big chance in 74 minutes.
This combination of elite creativity and goal-scoring at a young age led Germany coach Hansi Flick to name Wirtz the 'total package'.
The manager said: “Florian is a huge asset through his carefreeness. He’s simply an outstanding technician, loves to play, very creative, has a good shot, runs hard and is quick."
Leverkusen’s director of sport, Simon Rolfes, has also heaped praise on the youngster.
“It’s impressive how courageously and confidently Flo has already asserted himself in professional football. He has what it takes to become a top player in the Bundesliga in coming years, and also an important element of the German national team.
“His outstanding talent was there for all to see, and it meant we had high hopes when we signed him as a 16-year-old in 2020.”
What happens next?
With Wirtz’s contract running until 2026, and no release clause valid in his contract, it could take a huge fee to tempt Leverkusen to part with their highly-regarded youngster.
In Chelsea’s 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 setup, Wirtz could operate on either the left or right as an attacking ‘8’, with Christian Pulisic injury prone and the future of Hakim Ziyech somewhat in doubt. Regardless of whether the Blues formalise a move for Wirtz in the coming windows, the German is definitely a player worth keeping an eye on for the remainder of the Bundesliga season as Leverkusen challenge Bayern for the title.