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As a German striker, being likened to Gerd Müller and Lukas Podolski is a glowing testimony – so it's little wonder Chelsea are keen on Freiburg's Gian-Luca Waldschmidt.
According to reports, the 23-year-old German international is on Frank Lampard's shortlist to bolster his forward options this summer. Despite scoring 13 times in the Premier League to rank sixth in the race for the Golden Boot, Tammy Abraham has come under fire.
On top of that, Olivier Giroud is expected to leave for Internazionale, having agreed personal terms. Further down the pecking order, Michy Batshuayi has once again failed to build on an impressive loan spell away from Chelsea.
With their registration ban now ancient history, the Blues are looking to add further firepower to reduce their reliance on the hot-and-cold Abraham next season and Waldschmidt fits the bill.
Who is Gian-Luca Waldschmidt?
Better known as Luca Waldschmidt, the forward was born in Siegen in the South Westphalian part of North Rhine-Westphalia. Football was in the youngster's DNA with his father, Wolfgang, making a handful of appearances for SV Darmstadt in the 1983/94 2. Bundesliga season.
Waldschmidt Jnr. started out at Eintracht Frankfurt in 2010, signing his first professional deal in April 2014. A year to the day later, the young forward made his Bundesliga debut as a substitute in a 2-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund. The following August Waldschmidt hit his first senior goal in a 3-0 DFB-Pokal win over Bremer SV.
Over the next two years, chances were few and far between for Waldschmidt, who signed for perennial strugglers Hamburg in the summer of 2016 on a four-year deal. In his first year at the Volksparkstadion, Waldschmidt made just 14 league outings. Crucially, though, he netted his first Bundesliga goal, picking the most opportune moment to do so.
In the final round of the 2016/17 Bundesliga season, Hamburg were tied 1-1 with relegation rivals Wolfsburg. That was until the 88th minute when, two minutes after his introduction, Waldschmidt scored his first Bundesliga goal to seal a vital win and steer HSV clear of the relegation playoff for the first time in four seasons.
He couldn't repeat the trick the following year, as Hamburg were relegated to 2. Bundesliga.
Coming of age
Waldschmidt, though, would be staying in Germany's top-flight. Freiburg had seen his potential and triggered a €5million release clause in his contract in the summer of 2018.
If he'd shown glimpses of promise at Hamburg, he has made good on it with Freiburg. In his first season, he finished with nine goals from 30 appearances in all competitions. But he wasn't done there. Last summer Waldschmidt shot to prominence by scoring seven times for Germany at the Under-21 UEFA European Championships, breaking the record held by compatriot Pierre Littbarski from the 1982 edition of the competition.
That haul earned Waldschmidt the nickname ‘Il Bomber' (the Bomber), in homage to Bayern Munich and Germany great Gerd Müller. “He (Waldschmidt) was surfing on a wave,” under-21 head coach Stefan Kuntz said at the time. “Sometimes it is like that for a striker, you can do whatever you want, and you will score. Then you have periods when you don’t score from one metre out.”
While Waldschmidt hasn't been prolific for Freiburg, his return of five strikes from just nine starts and 852 minutes equates to 0.53 goals per 90. That's a record which only 14 Bundesliga strikers can beat this season – despite the limited sample size.
What sort of player is Waldschmidt?
Waldschmidt has been likened to former Bayern and Köln forward Lukas Podolski by the Bundesliga website. His penchant for powerful left-footed efforts is coupled with the ability to dribble at pace and drop deep. A direct replacement for Chelsea's departing target man Giroud, he is not.
However, that is a blessing. Blues head coach Lampard has been reluctant to lean on the Frenchman due to his lack of mobility and dynamism. But with Waldschmidt, there'd be no such issue. The 23-year-old has scored twice from open play this term – his other goals were penalties – and both were efforts from outside the box. You only need to witness his stunning effort for Germany's under-21s to underline his accuracy from distance.
But there's also plenty of nuance to Waldschmidt's game – as well as having a hammer of a left foot. In the Bundesliga this term he has attempted 2.53 take-ons (per 90) and completed 1.06. Dribbling at pace is a real strength. His low centre of gravity enables him to glide past opposing defenders with ease.
As well as being a handy dribbler, Waldschmidt is more creative than your archetypal No.9. He shows a willingness to drop into deeper positions and operate in half-spaces with devastating effect. Take the example in the image below, against Hoffenheim. Stationed outside the penalty area, Waldschmidt holds his position. That enables Amir Abrashia to run off him before cushioning a perfectly-weighted pass into the midfielder's path.
His form for Freiburg hasn't gone unnoticed. Last August, Waldschmidt was called into Jochiam Löw's full Germany squad for the first time for UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Netherlands and Czech Republic. Like Chelsea, Die Mannschaft are searching for a reliable No.9 to lead the line.
“[Luca Waldschmidt] has been in our notebook for quite some time,” Löw said, following his showing at the Under-21 Euros. “He has developed well in Freiburg and made a big step forward. When he gets in an area where he can shoot on goal, he is always dangerous; his goals show that.”
That will be music the ears of Lampard.