Opinion: How will Chelsea and England respond to Ben Chilwell injury with left back feared to be out injured for season?
Chelsea fear Ben Chilwell could miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury, giving Thomas Tuchel and England manager Gareth Southgate a problem to solve. The 24-year-old has been in excellent form for the Premier League leaders, so who could come in for him at Stamford Bridge and how worried should Southgate be?
Ben Chilwell injured for Chelsea against Juventus.
Defenders have found the back of the net 16 times for Chelsea this season and Ben Chilwell has played his part in producing this tally. Indeed, the England international has three goals in six Premier League appearances from left back, yet this still doesn’t illustrate his importance to Thomas Tuchel’s side.
While Chilwell took some time to find his feet at Stamford Bridge, the 24-year-old has become a key figure for Chelsea this season. Not only does he give the Blues a goal threat, he gives them an outlet. Chilwell is Chelsea’s entire left wing in that he is capable of getting to both bylines on the defensive and attacking side of the ball.
This is why Chilwell’s recent knee injury has dealt such a blow to morale at Stamford Bridge. The Guardian claims Chelsea fear the full back could be out for the rest of the season with anterior cruciate ligament damage. Even if the extent of the injury isn’t that bad, it’s surely unavoidable that Chilwell will spend a spell on the sidelines.
“It worries me because he [Chilwell] was in such a fantastic moment, like Reece [James] on the other side,” Tuchel explained after the emphatic 4-0 win over Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday night during which was soured by the sight of Chilwell hobbling off before the end.
“They were in the best shape they could possibly be, so strong and so full of confidence and with such a lot of quality. Chilly has a sharp pain in the knee and he was in a lot of pain. Now he feels a bit better so we will have an examination tomorrow to be more precise. We hope for the best and it’s not too bad news.”
If it is bad news, Tuchel might have to rethink his approach. Of course, Marcos Alonso could slot in as deputy for Chilwell, but there are concerns over the Spaniard’s ability and positional awareness on the defensive side of the ball. This is important considering how Tuchel has built his Chelsea team on a sound defensive foundation.
Ian Maatsen could be recalled from his loan spell at Coventry City where he has flourished over the first half of the season with the Dutch teenager a key member of the team currently sitting fourth in the Championship. However, the 19-year-old would surely only be a depth option rather than Chilwell’s replacement.
The 3-4-2-1 system favoured by Tuchel gives Chelsea the option to repurpose at least one of their wide forwards. Callum Hudson-Odoi has recently thrived in his favoured position on the left side of the front three, but he could be deployed at left wing back if required. He has, after all, already played at wing back on the right side this season.
BERN, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Luke Shaw of Manchester United is challenged by Christopher Martins Pereira and Christian Fassnacht of Young Boys during the UEFA Champions League group F match between BSC Young Boys and Manchester United at Stadion Wank
Image credit: Getty Images
Chilwell’s absence will also give Gareth Southgate plenty to ponder. The Chelsea man has recently risen up the pecking order for England with Luke Shaw in such poor form for Manchester United, but injury to Chilwell might force the national team boss to look at some different options.
Bukayo Saka could be used at wing back, but beyond this England’s talent pool at left back is certainly shallower than it is at right back. Southgate might just have to hope that both Chilwell and Shaw are fit and available again by the time the 2022 World Cup in Qatar comes around.
Tuchel, however, doesn’t have the time to simply wait for his problems to resolve themselves. Chelsea can’t allow their standard to slip with competition at the top of the Premier League table so stiff. How the Blues respond to the loss of one of their most important players could play a role in determining the success or failure of their season.