For a brief moment last Saturday afternoon, there were two Timo Werners on the pitch at RB Leipzig’s Red Bull Arena.
One of them was the striker who has scored 26 goals in 35 games for club and country this season, earning him renewed interest from the likes of Liverpool and Bayern Munich.
The other, clinging onto his hand, was a six-year-old mascot who was only slightly shorter than his namesake. So while little Timo Werner faced up to a must-win game against Werder Bremen, even littler Timo Werner trotted off the pitch after the handshakes to find his mum and dad.
Timo Werner has been formidable for Leipzig this season with 26 goals in all competitions
The striker has slotted into Julian Nagelsmann’s system that has been tailor-made just for him
Werner trains with Leipzig at Tottenham’s stadium ahead of their game on Wednesday night
Luckily for Leipzig, it was the right Timo Werner who stayed on the pitch, and Julian Nagelsmann’s side eased to a 3-0 to keep the heat on Bayern. But while the Bundesliga chuckled at the story of the striker and the ballboy, Nagelsmann must have been quietly wishing he actually did have two Timo Werners in his squad.
Leipzig face Tottenham on Wednesday night and for Werner it will be more than just an audition for a potential move to the Premier League with Liverpool among those showing interest.
Despite a recent dip in form and no previous experience in the Champions League knockout stages, his team can approach the last-16 clash with a genuine hope of reaching the last-eight. They currently sit just a point behind Bayern in the Bundesliga, and Werner, who will lead the line in North London, is a key reason for their success this season.
His goalscoring record speaks for itself. His 20 goals in the league this term have included two hat-tricks and four braces, and he has also chalked up ten assists in all competitions.
Werner has 20 goals in the Bundesliga this season, including two hat-tricks and four braces
Blessed with searing pace and immaculate finishing, Werner was always well-suited to the smash-and-grab, neo-Teutonic football which Leipzig favoured under Ralf Rangnick and Ralph Hasenhüttl.
Under Nagelsmann, who adds a healthy dash of possession play to the pressing and counter-pressing, he has flourished even more. If Speedy Gonzales-esque counter-attacks remain his trademark, his ability to drift out wide, hang back and create space for his fellow forwards are also key to Leipzig’s attacking play.
Like Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, he also has a knack of squeezing out deadly shots from tight spots when his side comes up against a parked bus.
He had a World Cup to forget in 2018 but he has returned to the Germany fold this year
Jurgen Klopp will be watching Werner’s audition ahead of a possible transfer bid this summer
His form this year has seen him return to the national team fold after a miserable World Cup in 2018, and also dispelled the last remnants of a bizarre period in which he was one of the most hated players in Germany.
His move to Leipzig, who are widely hated for their Red Bull links, and one outrageous dive against Schalke in 2017 were briefly enough to turn an entire nation against him. For a while, chants of ‘Timo Werner is a son of a b***h’ were par for the course in all German stadiums, even ones where Leipzig weren’t playing.
It is a credit to Werner that he never rose to the unfair treatment, and his straightforward and effective approach to the game has now won him more fans than detractors.
He has also not let transfer speculation affect his form. Though he flirted continuously with a move to Bayern throughout last season, he still fired more than a goal every two games for Leipzig, helping them to Champions League qualification and the German Cup final.
The set-up at Leipzig is perfect for Werner and brings the best out of him in front of goal
In the end, it was Nagelsmann who persuaded him to stay on for another year, and Werner signed a new deal keeping him at the club until 2023. For many, it was the sensible choice, and one which Werner should bear in mind as he mulls a move to England or Munich this summer.
‘The system in Leipzig is the best that Timo Werner can get in Germany at the moment. In Munich, it would not be so tailor-made for him,’ former Arsenal and Germany keeper Jens Lehmann told Bild last month.
There is certainly something in that. Werner has always been at his most deadly when he is the focal point of an attack. For Germany in 2018, when he was used as a spare all-rounder to plug a gap out wide, he flopped spectacularly. Under Nagelsmann, where the system is built around him, he has been formidable.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, that may also mean that Werner does not shine in his audition against Tottenham on Wednesday night. Nagelsmann will no doubt have a specific plan for beating Jose Mourinho’s men, and unless Werner is at the heart of it, he may not hit his finest form.
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho will be looking to shackle Werner on Wednesday night
Werner may not have a defining game against Spurs but he will still interest top European sides
He is also, and will probably always remain, a mood player. When in the zone, Werner is an unstoppable force. Yet despite his record this season, he has gone through a minor goal drought in recent weeks, with no goals in his last five games.
Yet even if Tottenham does not prove to be a career-defining game, Werner will remain on the radar of Europe’s top clubs in the coming months and justifiably so. At Leipzig, they are all but resigned to losing him this summer.
‘If he continues to score goals then it is clear that it won’t just be Bayern who are interested in such a world class player. Timo is not unsellable, we have to be honest about that,’ Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff told Bild last month.
Perhaps the only solution for Mintzlaff and Nagelsmann is to somehow work out a way of having two Timo Werners. That way, they could sell one and keep the other on the pitch, scoring goals in the Bundesliga title race.