Chilwell vs Telles: solving Chelsea’s left back conundrum

When Ashley Cole left Chelsea after eight years of incredible service in the summer of 2014, it was inconceivable to most Chelsea fans that the left back slot which he left behind would not be convincingly filled for another six or more years, and yet here we are, still searching for a reliable replacement. Filipe Luís was brought in as Cole’s successor, having previously been part of the meanest defence in Europe whilst at Atletico Madrid. He looked the perfect Mourinho signing: very experienced at 29 years old and solid as a rock defensively, with good attacking output too, including 5 assists in La Liga in 2013/14. Yet he was shipped back to Atletico after a solitary season in which he was displaced from the side by natural right back César Azpilicueta. This has been a recurring theme as Baba Rahman, Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri have followed Luís to Chelsea since 2015 for combined fees in excess of £56 million, and invariably been left out for the reliable Azpilicueta. Marcos Alonso was superb as a left wing-back in Conte’s 2016/17 title winning side, but since a back four has been implemented (first by Sarri and then by Lampard) his positioning and defensive contributions have come into question. Baba Rahman and Emerson are likely to be let go in the near future. Clearly a pressing issue, Lampard has recognised that left back is the position which must be targeted above all others in the transfer market. Despite the number of quality options in Europe at the moment, with Nicolás Tagliafico, Raphaël Guerreiro and Alex Sandro all potentially available this summer, two names seem to be top of the Chelsea manager’s shopping list: Ben Chilwell and Alex Telles. We will take a look at each players’ strengths and weaknesses, their cost effectiveness and ultimately who should be bought in by Frank Lampard in the coming months.

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Photo credit: We Ain’t Got No History

Leicester have been flying in the league this season, propelled into third place by a core of young and talented players. James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi and Harvey Barnes are some of the players under the age of 24 to prosper this season, along with Ben Chilwell. The 23 year old left back started the season brightly before both he and the rest of the Foxes’ squad had a large drop in form after the turn of the year, with 3 wins from 9 league games in 2020 so far. Despite being valued at €40 million by transfermarkt (about £35 million), figures in the region of £70 million have been quoted by the press, with Leicester keen to ward off interest in one of their most prized possessions. Is the England international with 11 caps really worth that astronomical fee, which would make him the most expensive left back in Premier League history?

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Photo credit: Leicester Mercury

Chilwell is thought of as a reasonably offensive minded full back, and for good reason. His 2 goals and 3 assists from 23 league starts is respectable, and 1.2 key passes per game mark him out as a very effective creator. However, Chelsea already have a player capable of filling the left back role with the same goals and assists output in the league so far this season in César Azpilicueta. Our captain is also dispossessed less than half as often every league game (an average of 0.3 times per 90 minutes compared to Chilwell’s 0.7) and makes nearly three times fewer the number of poor touches per game than his English counterpart (0.7 to 1.9). On top of this, Azpilicueta is seemingly a much more defensively sound option than Chilwell, the Spaniards’ impressive defensive numbers such as 4.3 tackles and interceptions per game and 2.3 clearances dwarfing the Leicester man’s 2.7 tackles and interceptions and 2 clearances.

This seasons’ stats may not flatter Chilwell, but anyone who has watched Leicester this season can see that he has been an integral part of their success. His confidence on the ball when bombing down the wing is clear as day, his link up play with teammate Harvey Barnes on the left has been superb, and his decoy runs often make space for others, such as Jamie Vardy. In his relatively short career he has proved to be a selfless player and that may be to the detriment of his individual statistics. Let us not forget that he scored against us in our 2-2 draw with Leicester in February, and has been a danger to most teams he has played against this season. However, despite many positive displays, his horror performances against Mahrez and Salah in back-to-back defeats at the hands of Manchester City and Liverpool (Leicester lost 3-1 and 4-0 respectively, with most attacks coming down Chilwell’s flank) cannot be ignored. His confidence has plummeted since then, and in turn his performances have deteriorated. He is young and can still learn and improve, and should he sign for us he would fit in perfectly with Lampard’s young crop of home-grown players.

 

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Photo credit: Foxes of Leicester

Using statistics and gameplay footage we can come to the conclusion that Chilwell is a very solid Premier League player, and at just 23 he has a lot of time to improve further. Nevertheless, a £70 million outlay on a player in the hope that he improves does not appear to be a wise strategy, in fact it seems very similar to the disastrous purchase of Kepa Arrizabalaga. Undoubtedly Chilwell is good but the premium for buying an English player from a rival club these days is staggering, and probably stands at around £20 million in this deal. Luckily for Abramovich there appears to be a more experienced, cheaper left back available this summer…

Alex Telles has shone in the Liga NOS (the Portuguese league), and has done so since joining Porto in 2016. 9 goal contributions in his first season was topped by 17 in his second, and while 12 in 2018/19 was still impressive, the 13 he had this season (8 goals and 5 assists) at the time of the league’s suspension was on track to beat his most productive season. These numbers need to be taken with a pinch of salt given that the Brazilian is Porto’s penalty taker and that three quarters of his goals this season have been from the spot. What cannot be attributed to luck, however, is his creativity. 35 assists in 4 seasons in Portugal is simply absurd, and marks him out as one of the most dangerous attacking full backs in Europe.

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Photo credit: Forbes

It is no wonder that the full back’s assist numbers are so high, with 2 key passes on average every league game, as well as 2.3 crosses, his creative numbers are out of this world. Andy Robertson is considered by many as the best left back in the world at the moment, and he averages 1.5 key passes and 1 cross per league game, albeit in a much tougher league. Telles’ 2.7 tackles and interceptions in a Porto side rarely troubled by opposition attacks also show that he is defensively sound, with the only concern his high number of fouls conceded every game (1.7 compared to Robertson’s 0.5).

Despite what appear to be truly elite stats for a full back, Telles has yet to be given a chance by one of Europe’s top sides. This is probably due to the strength of the league he plays in, ranked sixth best in Europe, leading lots of suitors to be very sceptical about his true quality. However, we have seen with Bruno Fernandes and perhaps even more importantly with Ricardo Pereira of Leicester, that players coming out of the Portuguese top tier with phenomenal stats are often cut out for life in a more competitive division. Pereira, a former teammate of Telles at Porto, has arguably been one of the best right backs in the world since arriving in England, his average of 6.1 tackles and interceptions per league game, as well as 5 goal contributions this season, showing that he is a very complete full back. So could Telles be the next Pereira? If he manages to make a similar impact to the Portuguese star at Stamford Bridge, the reported fee of £30 million to acquire his services would be one of the bargains of the summer.

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Photo credit: 90Min

Given the potential perils of spending big on players out of relatively weak leagues (look no further than the £113 million Atletico Madrid splashed out on João Felix, with the former Benfica star netting just 4 times in 20 La Liga appearances so far), caution must be taken when scouting such players. Fortunately for Frank Lampard, there is a reasonably accurate way of seeing how Telles would fair against some of the best sides in the Premier League, and that is his statistics in Europe’s elite competition. Telles competed in the Champions League in three consecutive seasons from 2016/17 to 2018/19, managing an impressive 8 goal contributions in 24 games whilst facing the likes of Liverpool, Roma and Juventus, as Porto reached the knockout stages in all three seasons. His average of 3.4 tackles and interceptions every game across this time also shows he can hold his own against some of the best wingers in the continent.

Having analysed Chilwell and Telles in detail, and compared them to some of Europe’s elite in their positions, it is time to put them head-to-head. It is the Portuguese man who comes out on top in every department: with more goals, assists, tackles and interceptions and clearances every game, suggesting he is the more complete left back. However, there are a couple of factors working in Chilwell’s favour, including being four years Telles’ junior and being a proven player in the top tier of English football. However, the premium placed on young English talent combined with Leicester’s reluctance to sell him, means it is likely that Chilwell will be priced out of a move to Chelsea. Even if he is available for £50-60 million this summer, Telles would be around half that fee and prove a much more cost-effective option.

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Photo credit: Zimbio

If it were up to this writer to pick who to bring to the Bridge, I would move as fast as I could to secure Telles’ services (PSG are reportedly also interested). His incredible statistics both offensively and defensively may be tempered by the low quality of opposition in Portugal, but the fact is that you can only play against the sides put in front of you, and he does not just play against them, he destroys them. His impressive numbers in the Champions League strengthen his case, and at 27 years old he has still got five more years of high quality output in him before he could potentially pass the torch to Chelsea’s promising 18 year old left back Ian Maatsen. We are spoiled for choice though, with both of these players excellent options and upgrades on our current left backs. If Lampard brings in one of them for next season, Chelsea will have a much firmer defence and a crucial attacking outlet for breaking low blocks, something we have struggled with this season. Put simply, either one of those players could prove the difference in us closing the gap to Liverpool at the head of the table. It is important that the board act swiftly in securing the left back of Lampard’s choice, and then we can move on and strengthen other areas of the squad as well.

Written by Daniel New 

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