5 Left-backs that Chelsea should target instead of Leicester City's Ben Chilwell

Chilwell hasn
Chilwell hasn't been at his best this season and won't come cheap
Rahul Iyer
Modified 10 Apr 2020

The football season's future may be up in the air at the moment, but that hasn't stopped the constant speculation around players' and clubs' futures in the transfer market.

To anyone who has been following Chelsea, or indeed the Premier League in general, one thing is abundantly clear: this team needs a left-back.

Chelsea's main options in that position, Emerson and Marcos Alonso have had the playing time split fairly equally between them so far this season. But it's fair to say that manager Frank Lampard would rather he had other options.

Alonso has often impressed as a wing-back in a back three and Emerson has shown that he can be an adequate back-up. Although, neither one is really good enough to be a long term first-choice defender in that side.

The club has been linked with the likes of Alex Telles and Alejandro Grimaldo, among others. But, the strongest rumours by far are those speculating that the Blues could make a move for Leicester City's Ben Chilwell. While this seems a decent deal on the surface, it may not be as good as it sounds.

Here are the reasons why, as well as the more suitable targets for Chelsea.

The argument against Chilwell

Ben Chilwell
Ben Chilwell

On the face of it, this purchase appears to be extremely well thought-out and more than suitable for all parties involved. Chelsea would acquire a long-term solution to their left-back problem (he is still just 23 years old) who has proven his worth in an extremely capable team.

Chilwell gets to move to London to consistently participate in European competitions and pocket a cool wage rise. He'd also ensure that Leicester make a healthy profit on an academy graduate, which then goes back into helping the club improve further.

Besides, he fits the profile of a young, hungry British player, the type which is starting the form the core of Lampard's Chelsea.

But while Chilwell appears to be performing quite well for Leicester, that only means two things for Chelsea:

  1. The hype that has built around him will only lead to Leicester's asking price being driven up.
  2. A deeper look at his output is needed to gauge whether he will be worth that likely high asking price.
Chilwell's performances this season have not been as good as they seem

The above chart is a representation of Chilwell's quality relative to those players in his position, with similar playing time and of a similar age. The parameters set here are players (left-backs, to be more specific) under the age of 27 who have played over 1000 minutes in that position this season. This is the profile of player Chelsea would be looking at.

The numbers on the edges of the yellow outline represent Chilwell's percentile ranking. That is, if the number shown is 85, it means that he ranks better than 85% of the players compared in that particular metric.

From the radar, one observation can be made immediately, which is that he appears quite limited.

Indeed, in four of the eight chosen metrics, Chilwell ranks in the bottom half of players of a similar profile in four of these. Most worrying of all, possibly, is his poor tackle success rate. Chilwell only ranks better than 12% of the 54 players who qualify under the given constraints.

While the number itself, at 60.71% of tackles won, is not inherently 'bad', it is extremely clear that there are possibly other cheaper and far more viable options available.

Chilwell does look good going forward, ranking in the top 15% of players for both passes into the final third and 'activity' (a measure which shows whether a defender is likely to initiate a duel or stand off an opponent). But it must be said that for the price Chelsea is likely to pay, they probably cannot afford to overlook that.

So, what are these other options?

The Tertiary Options: One-Dimensional Full-Backs

Given that Chelsea have Reece James and Cesar Azpilicueta to play at right-back, they could opt to go for a purely offensive/purely defensive option at left-back.

This can be done as both the aforementioned players are more than capable of playing as two-way full-backs.

In this section, we look at one player who is an attacking threat and another who is a solid, lockdown defender.

Robert Skov (TSG Hoffenheim)

Robert Skov
Robert Skov

First on the list is TSG Hoffenheim left-back Robert Skov. The Danish international has been one of the shining lights for his Bundesliga club, in what has been a fairly underwhelming season.

In fact, to even call him a left-back would be a bit disingenuous. Skov first caught the attention in the 2018/19 season when he scored 29 goals for FC Copenhagen. Playing as a right-winger in the Danish Superliga, he broke the league's single-season scoring record in the process.

However, since his move to Hoffenheim last summer, Skov has spent most of his time playing at left-back in a back four, or a left wing-back in a back three. But it's fair to say he has excelled in his new role.

Skov is a real menace on the left flank
Skov is a real menace on the left flank

Skov is an absolute menace down the left flank, acting as one of the main conduits for Hoffenheim's attacking play.

As we can see, he possesses the ability to consistently create good quality chances. This is evidenced by his ranking for both key passes provided per 90 minutes, as well as the expected goals value of shots taken from these passes (counted as expected assists for Skov).

His expected assists per key pass stands at a mind-boggling 0.243, well above the likes of Ferland Mendy, Andrew Robertson, Raphael Guerreiro and Alphonso Davies. Of course, this number is boosted by the fact that Skov is Hoffenheim's primary set-piece taker. But his ability is such that he could easily overtake Jorginho to become Chelsea's dead-ball specialist.

With a very useful contribution of three goals and four assists as well this season, Skov has all the attributes to make it to the very top and Chelsea could help him do just that.

Hassane Kamara (Stade de Reims)

Hassane Kamara
Hassane Kamara

From one of Europe's best attacking left-backs, we now move on to possibly the best wide defender in Europe this season (Sorry, Aaron Wan-Bissaka). Reims left-back Hassane Kamara has been a revelation in Ligue 1 this season for the Eastern French club. H has churned out consistently exceptional performances as Reims look to push for a spot in European competition next season.

The club currently occupies fifth place in the Ligue 1 table, with 41 points from their 28 games thus far, despite being the second-lowest scorers in the division, with 26 goals (only bottom club Toulouse has scored fewer, with 22).

The club has also lost just seven games so far, with only PSG and Marseille, the top two, losing less often. The secret? Reims have conceded just 21 goals so far, the best record in the league, thanks to an airtight backline, of which Kamara is a big part.

Kamara has been one of the best defensive full-backs this season
Kamara has been one of the best defensive full-backs this season

He ranks first for both tackle success rate, as well as interceptions made, among the selected players fitting the aforementioned criteria of being below the age of 27 and playing over 1000 minutes. Kamara has won 92% of his tackles and made close to 3.9 interceptions per game.

While this is partly influenced by the fact that Reims is a fairly defensive team (which also explains why he does not rank very high for activity), it is still a good sign. It shows that he reads the game well and can identify, to a great degree of accuracy, when he can go in for the tackle, or give the attacker some space.

Kamara is only 168 cm tall and weighs just 67 kg, something which may put off Premier League clubs, given the physical nature of the league. But it is worth noting how someone like NGgolo Kanté has not let his lack of size affect his game. And, Kamara could well do the same and adapt extremely quickly to the league.

His contract is up in the summer of 2021 and Reims stated in January that they would not accept bids of less than €8 million for him. Hence, it is a very real possibility that Chelsea would be able to secure his signature for under £15 million, which could turn out to be one of the bargains of the decade.

The Secondary Options: Solid, But Maybe Not Quite There

For this next category, we will profile a couple of players who could be the solution to Chelsea's quandary, were they to miss out on their primary target.

Both these players are fairly well-rounded, but possess a couple of rough edges.

Philipp Max (FC Augsburg)

Philipp Max
Philipp Max

First up in this category is Augsburg defender Philipp Max. Starting his career at 1860 Munich before moving on to Bayern at the age of 14, Max eventually broke through into senior football with Schalke 04 in the 2013/14 season.

He made just two appearances for the club before moving to Karlsruher the following season. Augsburg picked him up in 2015 and he has been a key member of the club ever since, appearing 146 times.

Max made his name as an attacking full-back but has shown a willingness to track back and make sure not to shun his defensive duties. This season, Max has been a vital part of the Augsburg attacking unit, even playing as a winger and a number ten at times. He has registered seven goals and five assists thus far.

Max has a few rough edges, but he could be a real asset for Chelsea
Max has a few rough edges, but he could be a real asset for Chelsea

Looking at Max's radar chart, two things catch the eye immediately. He ranks near the bottom for both activity and interceptions made. However, this is easily explained by the fact that Augsburg have the lowest average possession in Europe's top five leagues and tend to sit off opponents.

Hence nearly all of their defenders will rank low for activity and will make more tackles than interceptions.

Now, the good bits. Max is a genuine attacking threat, providing both quantity and quality with his delivery. His return of 2.2 key passes per 90 minutes, 29.9% cross accuracy and expected assists per key pass value of 0.115 put him in the top 25% of players considered for each metric.

In addition, Max is a fairly progressive passer, averaging nearly three passes into the final third per game. He also protects the ball well, being dispossessed only 1.5 times per game on average.

He may not be the finished article yet, but there is undoubtedly a player in him. If Chelsea was to buy him, the club would be taking a bit of a punt, but one that could pay massive dividends in the future.

Lucas Olaza (Celta Vigo)

Lucas Olaza
Lucas Olaza

Uruguayan defender Lucas Olaza has had, it's fair to say, quite an interesting career till date. Born in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, he started out at the youth academy of River Plate (Montevideo), debuting for the club in 2012.

In 2014, he spent a season on loan in Brazil, with Atletico Paranaense and the subsequent campaign on loan in Celta Vigo's B team.

Following permanent moves to Danubio and Talleres de Cordoba, Olaza again went on loan in 2018, this time to Boca Juniors. They made the move permanent in January 2019, before loaning him out (again) to Celta Vigo, initially on a six-month deal.

This was extended last summer for another year. His performances for Celta have often earned him rave reviews from the Spanish media and he appears ready to make the step up to a bigger club.

Olaza is not exceptional but is quite well-rounded
Olaza is not exceptional but is quite well-rounded

Olaza's main strength is his ability to hold the ball and ensure safe possession of it, especially when under pressure from opposition players. He rarely takes a bad touch or is caught in possession.

This is a trait that proves to be extremely compatible with Chelsea's quick passing style. A cross completion rate of 23% and an xA per key pass value of 0.14 both reinforce the fact that he is a well-rounded defender.

Adaptability shouldn't be a problem with Olaza, given how much he has moved around in his career so far. The only doubts Chelsea might have would be with regards to whether he has enough exposure at the very top level. He would be likely to come cheap, however, and could well be worth the risk.

The Number One Target

The final player on this list is perhaps the most ideal signing for Chelsea to make. Aaron Martin is young, hungry and supremely well-rounded with experience in a couple of top leagues already. He may not come cheap, but the club would be certain to get a fair bit of bang for their buck were they to make an approach for him.

Aaron Martin (FSV Mainz 05)

Aaron Martin
Aaron Martin

The third current Bundesliga player on this list, Spanish left-back Aaron Martin is the stand-out candidate for Chelsea to sign this summer. Born in Montmelo, Catalonia, Martin spent 10 years in the Espanyol youth set-up before debuting for the club in 2016, at the age of just 19.

After making 62 appearances across two seasons for the La Liga side, he moved to Mainz on loan in 2018, with the club making the deal permanent in 2019.

Martin has long been on the radar of several big clubs across Europe, having been linked with the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton and Napoli in 2017. And, it isn't hard to see why.

Martin is one of Europe
Martin is one of Europe's most complete full-backs.

Among all the viable options for Chelsea to target, Martin stands out as the most complete full-back. He epitomizes, everything that a modern-day wide defender needs to be. martin is solid in defence, efficient in attack and willing enough to get up and down the pitch with intensity and commitment.

Martin ranks in the top 4% of players considered in three different metrics: key passes (1.94 per 90 minutes), cross completion rate (30.43%) and tackle success rate (83.33%).

What is also impressive is that he ranks high for both interceptions (1.94 per 90) and quality of chances created (0.112 xA per key pass). He does rank low for activity, but that is because, like Max, Martin also plays for a team which prefers to react in defensive situations.

Still only 22, he still has time to grow, a frightening thought for players tasked with shutting him down. If Chelsea was to make an offer now, the club would likely be obtaining a starting quality left-back for the next decade or so.

Published 10 Apr 2020
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