The signing of 23 year old English left-back Ben Chilwell, on a five-year deal, represents a major coup for Chelsea. A Premier League winner with Leicester during the 2015/16 season, Chilwell is a member of the new generation of talented young English fullbacks, with 99 Premier League appearances and 11 England caps to his name. Upon his arrival, Frank Lampard stated “he is a player I know very well … he is athletic, his physicality, the way he plays and the quality of his left foot”. Last season, as Leicester finished 5th, despite challenging in the top 4 for most of the season, Chilwell played 27 games and contributed 6 G+As, with an aggregate rating of 6.96 across the year, according to WhoScored. The capture of Chilwell is particularly savvy financial business for Chelsea, with his services secured for an initial £45m. As a 23 year old English player with 4 years left on his Leicester deal, Chelsea were quoted a fee in excess of £80m for Chilwell, with Maguire’s departure to Manchester United the previous summer setting the benchmark in many ways. However, a combination of Director Marina Granovskaia’s negotiating skills, and Chilwell’s eagerness to join Lampard’s project at Chelsea, brought the price down by nearly 50%. Chilwell, who joined the club with a pre-existing Achilles injury, will be buzzing to make his debut, potentially away to West Brom in gameweek 3.
The LB position has been a major issue for Chelsea in previous years, and somewhat of a “problem position”. Club legend Ashely Cole, arguably the greatest left-back in Premier League history, if not of all time, left in the summer of 2014. However, he only played 17 league games the previous season, aged 32. Cesar Azpiluceta, signed as a right-back in 2012, featured 29 times at left-back, as Chelsea went without silverware in the 2013/14 season. The following year, Azpi fully established himself in the side, playing 36 games in all competitions at LB, as Chelsea won the Premier League and League Cup double.
However, the acquisition of Brazillian left-back Filipe Luis in the 2014 summer window for £16m was deemed as wasteful. Luis only played 15 league games before rejoining Atletico Madrid the following summer for a financial loss. The summer 2015 window also saw the arrival of 21 year old Ghanian left-back Baba Rahman from Bundesliga side FC Augsburg for £14m. Rahman played 15 league games in the 2015/16 season as Chelsea finished 9th in a turbulent season (where Kenedy played LB a number of times, including v PSG in the Champions League), and was loaned out the following summer to Schalke. He remains a Chelsea player at the age of 26, after disappointing loan spells in France and Spain and a serious injury sustained in 2017 halted his progress.
The 2016 summer window saw the arrivals of both Antonio Conte as manager, and another left back in Marcos Alonso from Fiorentina on deadline day for £24m. Alonso thrived in Conte’s 3-4-3/3-5-2 setup, playing 37 games in all competitions and contributing 9 G+As, as Chelsea won their 5th Premier League. However, the 2017/18 season saw a slide in form for both Alonso and the side generally. Whilst Alonso scored 8 goals, including an iconic brace v Tottenham at Wembley, he came under criticism for his defensive drawbacks, such as tracking back and positional awareness, as Chelsea finished 5th. The arrival of Emerson from Roma for £20m in January 2018 sought to increase competition for the LB slot with Alonso and provide an alternate setup. Emerson is a pacier, younger player in comparison to Alonso, and more comfortable in a traditional back 4. Whilst Emerson had impressive moments for The Blues, including assisting in the 2019 Europa League final win v Arsenal, he only featured 15 times for Chelsea last season, with 0 G+As and 3 yellow cards. Throughout this period, club captain Azpilicueta slotted into the LB position frequently; including 11 times last season; indicating this is a position Chelsea have struggled to truly fill since Cole’s departure. Chilwell will now look to make the LB spot his own.
Chilwell’s arrival now begs the question: who should remain at the club as back-up? With Frank Lampard keen on instilling a sense of constant competition throughout the squad, one of Marcos Alonso or Emerson will remain as depth for Chilwell. One of the players will almost certainly leave. This article will analyse both players and conclude on who is better suited to challenge Chilwell ahead of the 2020/21 season.
Emerson, who joined from Roma with a history of injury problems, after sustaining a ACL tear in early 2017, is now 26 and at a crossroads in his career. He has been frequently linked with a move away from London this summer. Inter Milan, and old friend Antonio Conte, were allegedly monitoring the Italian international, with Chelsea holding out for a fee of between €20-25m, although this interest has now cooled since the arrival of Aleksander Kolarov in Milan. West Ham are also apparently keen on Emerson, who has 2 years left on his deal. According to WhoScored, Emerson recorded a rating of 6.71 last season in the Premier League, starting 13 games, and coming off the bench twice. Emerson did not register a goal or assist in the league last season, although he did produce an assist for Azpilicueta in the 2-1 home win v Lille. In terms of defensive stats, Emerson produced 1.5 tackles per 90 minutes, 1.2 interceptions, 0.3 tackles, and 0.9 clearances. Compared to Ben Chilwell, Emerson produced more interceptions, however less tackles, less clearances and blocks, and was dribbled past more often per 90 minutes. In terms of passing stats, Emerson and Chilwell both recorded 1.3 key passes per 90 last season. However, Chilwell produced 61 passes per game on average compared to Emerson’s 48. Whilst Emerson recorded a higher number of shots per game, it is worth noting Chilwell’s statistics come from a much larger sample size, the Englishman playing 2376 minutes compared to Emerson, who played 1026 minutes.
|Tackles per 90||1.5||1.6|
|Interceptions per 90||1.2||1|
|Clearances per 90||0.9||2|
|Key passes per 90||1.3||1.3|
|Pass success percentage||85.1%||78.3%|
|Crosses per 90||0.9||0.7|
With Emerson putting up fairly good numbers last season, albeit in a limited number of games, Chelsea have set a transfer tag of around £20m. With outgoings required to trim the large first team squad, Emerson appears to be surplus to requirements. However, finding a suitable selling club appears difficult so far.
Spaniard Marcos Alonso is now one of the longer serving members of the Chelsea squad, having signed from Fiorentina in summer 2016, making his return to a league he previously played in with Bolton and Sunderland. Now 29, Alonso has also been linked to Inter Milan, where he would rejoin Antonio Conte, the manager who brought him to Stamford Bridge. However, the arrival of Kolarov at the San Siro has surely scuppered this deal. Furthermore, Sevilla ruled out a move for Alonso after the financial hit of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last season, Alonso played 15 league games for Chelsea, including 3 off the bench, and recorded a score of 7.30 according to WhoScored. Alonso scored 4 goals and 2 assists; including a strike from outside the box v Spurs in February. Alonso’s goal scoring has become an important component of his game; he has scored 19 goals since his arrival, including 4 free kicks, and big goals against rivals such as Spurs, Arsenal and Man Utd. Alonso’s versatility is also a key attribute, while he is limited playing in a back 4, many of his finest performances, and goals, have come at LWB. This system was Conte’s favourite between 2016 to 2018, and a setup Lampard used several times last season. During Alonso’s 10 appearances at LWB in all competitions last season, he scored 3 goals and produced 3 assists, compared to just 1 goal and 1 assist in 19 games at LB. Defensively, Alonso produced more interceptions than Chilwell last season, as well as more key passes per 90, and a greater pass completion rate. Alonso also produced more than 3 times the number of shots per 90 Chilwell did (1.9 v 0.6), again demonstrating the attacking threat the Spaniard offers, as well as more crosses per 90.
|Marcos Alonso||Ben Chilwell|
|Tackles per 90||1.6||1.6|
|Interceptions per 90||1.1||1|
|Clearances per 90||1.4||2|
|Key passes per 90||1.4||1.3|
|Pass success percentage||82.6%||78.3%|
|Crosses per 90||1.1||0.7|
The arrival of Chilwell will undoubtedly lead to one of Alonso or Emerson leaving the club to pastures anew. Whilst Emerson’s statistics are similar to Chilwell’s in many regards, the Italian did not play a large number of minutes, pointing to his recurring injury problems and issues with consistency. With Alonso playing the full 90 minutes against Brighton on Monday, and against Liverpool on Sunday, the coming season at Stamford Bridge is looking more likely to involve Marcos Alonso than his younger competitor. Alonso provides 3 key benefits over Emerson. Firstly, his ability to play LWB allows Lampard the opportunity to alternate between a back 3 and back 4 system. Alonso’s best football has come in this wing-back role, and Lampard will be keen to have him available for this position when the opportunity requires. For example, the 3-1 victory v Man Utd in the FA Cup semi-final in July saw Alonso play 90 minutes in one of Chelsea’s best displays last season. With Chilwell and Emerson both conventional LBs in a back 4, Alonso’s quality at wing-back provides Lampard with a valuable option, depending on tactics and injuries. Secondly, Alonso’s goal scoring record remains highly impressive. No defender has scored more Premier League goals since his arrival in 2016 (19 in 114). Furthermore, Alonso has the knack of scoring important goals; his goals v Spurs throughout the years came in crucial wins. Finally, Alonso’s free kicks can be an important tool for Lampard. Alonso has scored 4 free kicks, 3 of which came in the 2017/18 season. With Willian moving on to Arsenal, Alonso’s free kicks provide a potent threat other players are not capable of. It remains to be seen whether or not Emerson can be moved on before the transfer deadline in October, however, with 3 senior left-backs right now, it may prove wiser to keep Alonso around as understudy to Ben Chilwell.