After recovering from an offseason foot injury, Ben Chilwell had started 16 Premier League matches in a row under Frank Lampard, playing all but 88 minutes in that time — 80 of which were because of a knock suffered early on against West Ham in mid-December.
Since Lampard’s sacking however, Chilwell has started just two of the four league games, and also did not play in the FA Cup match against Barnsley, which featured both of the other two left backs in the squad, Emerson and Marcos Alonso. In fact, while Emerson has remained largely on the sidelines through the managerial transition, the veteran Alonso has been resurrected and has been de facto first-choice in Tuchel’s Conte-esque 3-4-3.
That reference and connection to our last league title-winning head coach isn’t just superficial either. Alonso’s experience (and yes, excellence) in that system has been a direct contributing factor to his involvement, especially as Thomas Tuchel arrived in mid-season with little time to work on things and have players internalize new instructions or roles.
“I took the choice for Marcos where we played with a five because he was more familiar with the position. He played there under Antonio Conte and we opted for Marcos against Burnley for his strengths in the air for headers to defend and attack set-pieces. Marcos had a really good match where he scored a decisive goal and from there it was hard to come back for Tottenham. We didn’t make changes in this position.”
That being said, Chilwell, who’s six years Alonso’s junior, is far from written off by the new head coach — especially with a busy schedule and a large squad. He just needs a bit more time to adapt and show his qualities.
“If he is [worried] I can understand. He has had some difficult decisions against him, where they were tight choices [but] we wanted to give a fair start to everybody and not judge the amount of money that the club has spent but give everybody a feeling of a fresh start.
“Yes, Marcos is at the moment is a guy who took advantage of this situation but it is not the end of Chilly’s development. That’s for sure.”
Chilwell was perfect for Lampard’s system, which was one of the reasons he joined this summer. He fit in almost instantly, as if he had been one of the several homegrown Academy youth taking on starring roles. He fit in seamlessly in the dressing room as well, judging by the various posts on social media. Chilly B acquitted himself excellently in interviews as well. Everyone loves Chilly B!
Tuchel does, too, but there’s work to do.
“I see also with Chilly a very nice guy, reflective guy and an intelligent guy. I maybe felt it in the first days that it is possible that he thinks a lot about this situation but hopefully not too much because he can trust himself and us as a staff that he can keep pushing and we will find possibilities to reward him.
“He showed a good performance in Sheffield United and it was important for him and the team. Sometimes it takes a little time and there are hard decision at the moment, at a club like Chelsea, with a squad of 22 players.
“Hopefully, we don’t have a lot of injuries but we have to deal with these situations. It is my job not to lose these players and to help them not lose trust. If he keeps on going, as a fantastic guy, he has a lot of potential and we will find possibilities for him on the pitch.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Goal
Presumably, Tuchel’s primary consideration is finding the players and the lineups that will give us the best chance of winning. If that means Alonso or Chilwell or even Emerson, then that’s whom he should be picking. As ever, it’s up to the players to show their qualities and convince the coach otherwise.
From what we’ve seen so far from Chilwell since he’s joined, there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to do so, to push for minutes be that in a back-three, back-four, back-five, or whatever else Tuchel concocts.
And, if nothing else, just like that one story about how Alonso was happy to bide his time and see if he lasts longer than Lampard at the club, Chilwell’s likely to be here much longer than Tuchel in the end. That might sound a bit callous, but that’s just how things work at Chelsea — and if we know it, the players do, too.
All that said, Chilwell’s surely got the qualities to beat out Alonso for the starting job at left back, wing-back, whatever-back. The spot might be Alonso’s at the moment, but Tuchel seems quite willing to go with the hot hand and the best option, so there should be plenty of opportunities down the line. Chilwell’s only going to get better.