Timo Werner, Chelsea and Numbers That Lie

Not only are his chances rarer, though, they are also lower quality, according to Gracenote’s analysis. Yet, at the same time, he has seen a slight uptick in the number of chances he is creating: an assist every 331 minutes in England as opposed to one every 340 minutes in the Bundesliga.

None of these, of course, amounts to a smoking gun, a single shocking statistic that proves, in one fell swoop, that Timo Werner has been the signing of the season. They do not contradict the idea that he has been sapped of his confidence — though perhaps it is starting to return under Chelsea’s new coach, Thomas Tuchel — or that his first few months in England have been frustrating and arduous.

The numbers do not tell the whole story, but they are a reminder that perhaps the immediate judgment of the eye can be flawed, too. A couple of weeks ago, on a bitterly cold night in Sheffield, Werner spent almost the entire game making the same run, again and again.

He picked out Chris Basham, the Sheffield United defender, his mark for the evening. He lingered a couple of feet in front of him: close enough to sense, not quite close enough to touch. He waited. He danced in anticipation. And as soon as the ball fell to one of his teammates, he made his move: burning past Basham at an angle, cutting from the left-hand side of the field to the center, bearing down on the penalty area.

For a while, it had no tangible impact. There was a cross that did not quite come off, a shot that was cleared from the line. And then, just before halftime, Werner got his reward. Ben Chilwell picked out his run from deep: He knew where he was going to be. Werner skated past Basham, floundering now, to the corner of the penalty area, and crossed, low, for Mason Mount to crash the ball home.

It would have been easy to overlook all the work that went into that moment. Much of it may not even have been noted in all but the deepest statistical analysis. But then so much of what constitutes soccer goes unseen: a forward pulling and stretching a back line, softening up a defender, priming them for the coup de grâce. The eye and the spreadsheet sometimes tell different, equally valid, stories. But there are times, too, when neither and both quite capture the whole.