What does Ben Chilwell bring to Chelsea? Strengths and weaknesses
Finally, it’s official: Ben Chilwell is a Chelsea player, putting pen-to-paper on a five-year deal after the Blues agreed to pay Leicester City a reported £45million for the left-back.
Chelsea have been very active this transfer window, signing a plethora of top talent. Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner were the first two new recruits through the door at Stamford Bridge, with Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz, PSG’s Thiago Silva, and free agent Malang Sarr all looking likely to follow suit.
Frank Lampard has made no secret of the fact Chelsea were also in the market for a left-back this summer, and in Ben Chilwell, the Blues’ boss has a defender who ticks every box — he’s young, homegrown, and has shown signs of developing into a top talent.
But what kind of player is Chilwell? What are his strengths and weaknesses? And how will he fit into Lampard’s system?
Chilwell is a defender with great physical capacities. While not being incredibly strong, he does possess bags of stamina and is relatively pacey. Having spent much of last season playing at full-back in Leicester’s favoured 4-1-4-1 formation, Chilwell’s ability to get up and down the left flank provides the Foxes with a clear numerical advantage when attacking.
The most obvious example of this came in Leicester’s 9-0 demolition of Southampton back in October. Chilwell opened the scoring that night after just 10 minutes, following his low cross into the box to convert the rebound from Harvey Barnes’ initial shot.
After also playing a role in the build-up to the second goal, Chilwell demonstrated another one of his key attributes when assisting the fourth: crossing. The defender’s ability to whip balls into the box from both open play and set-pieces represents a highly sought-after trait in modern full-backs. After all, it’s all very well and good getting to the byline, but you need to be able to do something with it.
Arguably the most important delivery of Chilwell’s career to date came in England’s crunch UEFA Nations League tie against Croatia. Deadlocked at a goal apiece with five minutes left on the clock, it was Chilwell’s free-kick that made the difference, as he curled a lovely cross around Croatia’s backline, putting it on a plate for Harry Kane to score the eventual winner.
On the other hand, there are plenty of Leicester and Chelsea supporters who don’t really rate Chilwell, and their feelings aren’t without foundation. For starters, Chilwell has shown time and again he struggles to defend in one-v-one situations.
Whether he’s up against a physically dominant winger with blistering pace, like Adama Traore or Ismaila Sarr, or more tricky opponents, such as Riyad Mahrez or Wilfred Zaha, Chilwell doesn’t appear to have the defensive attributes to contain them.
He certainly hasn’t been helped in that regard at Leicester, with left winger Harvey Barnes preferring to stay forward in anticipation of counterattacks, but Chilwell’s inability to quell quality wingers is definitely a cause for concern and an area where Chelsea will undoubtedly be looking for improvement.
Another of Chilwell’s weaknesses is his decision making. He’s comfortable bringing the ball out from the back — something that Brendan Rodgers demands from his defenders — but he can sometimes dither in possession, failing to find the right pass numerous times.
Chiwell’s also fairly one-footed, meaning his inclination is usually to get to the byline and dig out a cross, as opposed to cutting inside and opening the pitch up on his right foot. Chelsea fans should get used to plenty of overlapping, but don’t expect to see many mazy runs infield.
Leicester’s season of two halves has been well documented. After an incredible start, the Foxes tailed off in 2020, culminating in the club missing out on Champions League football on the final day of the season to Manchester United.
Chilwell was far from exempt when it came to Leicester’s dramatic dip in form, and he was heavily criticised by large sections of the fanbase for his performances between December and March.
At times, the flack has been warranted, but on other occasions Chilwell became a scapegoat for Leicester’s overall shortcomings. The defender wasn’t helped by the fact the rest of the defence – Jonny Evans, Caglar Soyuncu and Ricardo Pereira – all largely maintained their form while the attacking players dropped off, which only accentuated any mistakes he made at the back.
As the rumours of Chilwell’s potential departure grew, so too did fans’ negative feelings towards him. This simmering animosity reached its apex after the restart, when Leicester were eliminated by Chelsea from the FA Cup, only for Chilwell to be pictured smiling with Ross Barkley immediately after the game’s conclusion.
Despite the fan theories that this all but confirmed his transfer to Chelsea, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume Chilwell is just friends with Barkley from England training, and that he simply didn’t consider the repercussions of something that, really, shouldn’t be an issue.
— BreatheFootball (@BreatheCFC) August 26, 2020
What Chilwell Offers Chelsea
With all the above taken into account, it’s fair to conclude that Chilwell will be an upgrade on Chelsea’s current left-back options, Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri. Still only 23 years old, the England international has plenty of room to grow, and Lampard will be confident he and his coaching staff can mould Chilwell into an even better player than he already has.
There are a few causes for concern, most notably the fact that none of Chelsea’s wide men – Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic – are known for tracking back and helping out their full-back with defensive duties.
One solution for Lampard could be to deploy a back three. We saw him opt for a three-man defensive system on multiple occasions last season, and that would undoubtedly free up Chilwell, playing to his strengths in a more attacking wing-back role.
All in all, considering the dearth of quality English left-backs, the signing of Chilwell still marks decent, if a little overpriced, business for Chelsea. The hope now will be that Chilwell can silence the doubters, lockdown his starting spot for England ahead of Euro 2021, and kick on to become one of the Premier League’s best left-backs.
By Charlie Carmichael