There is plenty excitement about the capturing of the England left-back this week but when the season is underway, what are the technical aspects to Ben Chilwell’s play Blues fans can look forward to? For an expert view we turn to pundit and former Chelsea player Pat Nevin…
When you are buying a player at the top level, there is no such thing as a dead cert regarding his success in your team. The acquisition of Ben Chilwell is, however, just about as close as you get to being a ‘stick on’ or a sure thing.
Just about every box is ticked. He has played at the top level in the Premier League for enough years to be considered not only established, but one of the best around. The 11 England caps underline that fact and add on top that he is still only 23 years old, with his best years clearly ahead of him, it all fits very nicely.
Ben will have the comfort of walking into a dressing room with plenty of lads his own age, many of whom he will know well from the England squad, so I expect him to fit in comfortably from Day 1. This isn’t someone who has to learn the ropes in the Premier League and grow into it, this is a player you could throw the jersey across the dressing room to right away and just say ‘Get on with it, you know what to do’.
Although he has played as the left centre-back of a three, he clearly is a classic out-and-out left full-back, in a standard back four most of the time, though wing-back is certainly a position that would suit his strengths perfectly well. So, we have a young talented hungry player with versatility. He clearly fits the Frank Lampard squad model to a tee.
What makes Ben stand out from the rest of the others around however and what has tempted the club into making such a substantial investment? Well last season he started adding goals to his repertoire including one against the blues, with his right foot! You can view that in the highlights below.
He is a rampaging, overlapping full-back to be sure, but also one who likes to defend. It sounds odd, but there are quite a few left-backs and right-backs out there just now at the top level, who actually aren’t very good at defending, be that in a positional sense or just plain old stopping a winger getting past them.
He is a player who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet and although again this should be a given, there are a few ‘hammer-thrower’ defenders who wouldn’t be as comfortable joining in with Chelsea’s slick, quick passing style. When he does get involved with the play in the opposition half then arguably his biggest strength comes into play, his delivery from that left-hand side.
Sadly, I can’t resist the cliché here, but he does have a sweet left foot, which will create plenty of opportunities for our strikers and anyone else willing to get in the box when he is on the ball. He put in 90 crosses for Leicester in the Premier League last season and he could increase those numbers for us.
There is a long line of fabulous English international natural left-backs who have served this club through the years with the likes of Ashley Cole, Graeme Le Saux and my other old friend, Tony Dorigo immediately springing to mind. Who is Ben Chilwell most like? Well I have always likened him to another Premier League player in blue, but not at Chelsea. Everton’s Leighton Baines.
Although taller than the Toffees legend, they both have an ability I prize above all others in a full-back, they are a joy for a winger to work with. They have match intelligence and a willingness to bust a gut to help their playing partners out by making perfectly-timed, lung-bursting, overlapping runs.
I had understandings with a few full-backs throughout my career, certainly Stevie Clarke and I while we were at Chelsea knew how to carve open defences between us with intelligent passing and an understanding of each other’s movement and abilities. Not every full-back-winger partnership can however work at that level, it is an understanding that simply either is or isn’t there.
Over the past decade and more the gold standard for that type of partnership was Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar. For years they would find themselves in two-v-two situations but seconds later had manipulated the circumstances so that either Pienaar or Baines was at the opposition’s byline with the ball at his feet picking out a striker. They were brilliant at it, the best in the business by far, and over at Leicester for a few seasons I have watched Chilwell showing exactly the same skill set, sometimes with Harvey Barnes and at other times, with the likes of James Maddison.
At Chelsea will Ben have an intelligent, skilful, pacy winger to work with who has a superb football brain? One who has vision, can see a pass and crucially knows when to vacate the space for his mate hammering down the line on that left-hand side? A player who on top of that is selfless and keen to build a partnership out there with one-twos, dummies and the ability to draw defenders to make space?
I may well have given something close to a perfect (if slightly long) description of Christian Pulisic just there. That could be one extraordinary partnership if they click.
We have others who can play out there of course and a Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech or Mason Mount linking up with Chilwell would be also be chilling concept for most Premier League defences.
We may have bought ‘only’ a left-back here, but we might also have sorted out that position more comprehensively than at any time since Ashley Cole was at the club. There is the possibility of a good seven to ten years of service ahead at Stamford Bridge for our latest signing. To put that into perspective, just think how long and how important Cesar Azpilicueta has been to this club since he arrived aged 23.
I am delighted Ben is now finally here but probably not as delighted as Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham and of course Timo Werner, who have all had their scoring chances noticeably increased by his arrival. Chelsea fans the world over can now doubtless see what Frank’s signing strategy is and the club’s willingness to back him. There may be no one in the stadium but the buzz is still palpable. These are exciting times to be a Blue.