Football Features

Left-backs Chelsea should target this transfer window: Stop-gap Chilwell replacement or a statement signing?

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:25, 11 January 2022

Chelsea suffered a major injury blow last month when it was confirmed Ben Chilwell underwent surgery on his knee, ruling him out for the season.

The Englishman suffered a partial ACL injury in Chelsea’s 4-0 Champions League win over Juventus in November, but the Blues had initially hoped he would be able to return without surgery.

Ever since the news broke, Chelsea have been searching for a left-back/left-wing-back to both replace Chilwell and provide back up for Marcos Alonso who, at the moment, faces playing every game possible. There were a number of players linked with Chelsea, but the Blues seem to have one target high on their priority list – and he’s already under their employ. According to reports, Chelsea are trying to persuade Lyon to end Emerson’s loan early but are facing a stern response from the French side.

Chelsea are likely to keep trying, but if they cannot get Emerson back, where else could they look this month? We’ve had a gander at the left-backs with similar profiles to Chilwell across the continent, including some that might be flying under the radar.

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Ian Maatsen

If Chelsea can’t recall Emerson, there is another loanee they could look at.

Ian Maatsen is currently playing with Coventry in the Championship and is doing his job very well at both left-back and wing-back. His performances have been so good that Barcelona are reportedly interested.

In terms of replacing Chilwell, Maatsen is an all-rounder but one that would cost Chelsea very little (if they were able to recall him). The teenager is creating 1.18 chances per 90 minutes in the Championship this season and 0.21 ‘Big Chances’, the latter of which is better than Chilwell’s 0.17.

However, again it’s about systems and for Chelsea’s role Maatsen has averaged 1.12 shots per 90 — something he would need to work on. Defensively, Maatsen is proving he is sound, averaging 3.2 tackles per 90, 1.23 interceptions as well as winning 3.95 possessions in the defensive third and 2.78 in the middle third.

Nicolas Tagliafico

If Chelsea want to closer replicate Chilwell’s attacking contributions then Nicolas Tagliafico might be a better option. Part of Ajax’s fantastic team in the Eredivisie this season, Tagliafico spends more time in the opposition half than he does his own (see heat map graphic below), so would certainly be more comfortable in the wing-back role.

The Argentine, who has previously been a reported target of Chelsea, has also managed to get himself amongst the goals thanks to his advanced position, netting in Ajax’s 5-0 win over Fortuna Sittard back in September. Although it is only one goal, from six shots, Tagliafico has been hampered by his lack of playing time, which could work in Chelsea’s favour as Ajax may be more willing to let him leave.

Tagliafico also brings the defensive stability too, averaging 2.43 tackles per 90 in the Eredivisie this season, and 4.26 possessions won in the middle third.

Sergino Dest

Sergino Dest is a slightly rogue one as, although he is being linked with a move to Chelsea, he is a right-back. With Reece James’ injury, that might entice Chelsea even more now.

Dest was well liked by Ronald Koeman at Barcelona and did a good job at right-back, and left-back on occasion, but has fallen slightly out of favour with Xavi while also suffering with some injury problems.

What Dest brings to the table is more on the creative side of the game, recording 0.28 assists per 90 in La Liga this season and creating 1.57 chances. Putting Dest at left-wing-back would allow Chelsea to hit the opposition from both flanks and also counteract the loss of creativity on the right that will come in James’ absence.

Filip Kostic

One way to ensure Chelsea aren’t losing the attacking contributions of Chilwell is to sign a wing-back who can also play as a winger. Not many will look at Filip Kostic as a defensive player, rather an attacker playing deep, but that’s where he’d be perfect for Chelsea.

The Serbian has been amongst the goals for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga this season, both in scoring and creating. Directly involved in 10 goals, scoring three (0.19 per 90) and providing a further seven assists (0.43 per 90), Kostic is more than capable of filling the goalscoring gap left by Chilwell. If you look at how Chelsea use their left-wing-backs, in Alonso too, you can see how much they need a goalscorer.

Kostic is pretty decent at hitting the target too, with just 0.37 of his 2.05 shots per 90 in the Bundesliga missing the target — though his shot accuracy is only 39.39%.

The 29-year-old is also similar to Chilwell in defensive abilities too, averaging 1.49 tackles (to Chilwell’s 1.33), and does win the ball high up the pitch with 1.3 possessions won in the attacking third.

Federico Dimarco

Now, not every left-back on this list is going to be easily available for Chelsea, but they could still take a look at Inter Milan’s Federico Dimarco.

The 24-year-old has been something of a utility man for Simone Inzaghi this season, featuring at wing-back, left-back and centre-back in Serie A.

Dimarco has averaged 0.24 goals per 90 in Serie A this season and 0.12 assists, but what Chelsea may look at more is his shots. At 2.69 per 90, Dimarco is shooting more often than Chilwell (2.17) was for Chelsea, which is what the Blues will want — a wing-back not afraid to shoot especially when in the right positions. That’s shown by Dimarco’s xG per 90 of 0.33, again higher than Chilwell’s 0.14.

Simone Bastoni

Sticking in Serie A, Simone Bastoni is a slightly more well-rounded option that could provide Chelsea a mixture of attacking output and structure in defence. The Spezia full-back has averaged 0.18 goals and 0.12 assists per 90 in Serie A this season, but is certainly more creative with 1.93 chances created per 90 compared to his 0.99 shots.

Bastoni loves a take-on too, attempting 2.57 per 90 minutes in Serie A, something Chelsea have been lacking with Chilwell but, again, the different systems have to be taken into account. Bastoni has also been busier at Spezia than Chilwell is at Chelsea, but his 1.64 tackles per 90 isn’t too bad, and it has allowed him to show he can win the ball back with 3.75 possessions won in the defensive third and 2.52 in the middle third.

Lucas Digne

When Chilwell was first injured it looked as though Lucas Digne was going to be the man to replace him, but according to reports he is on his way to Aston Villa. However, he is still worth looking at.

Although you have to bear in mind the tactics and formations Chilwell and Digne play at their respective clubs, the Frenchman does find himself playing the ball into the opposition area quite a lot. Digne has averaged 4.85 penalty area entries per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, while Chilwell’s, as a wing-back, is 6.5 per 90.

Digne does also bring defensive cover, making 2.54 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League, 1.08 interceptions per 90, winning 1.92 aerial duels and 4.31 possessions won in the defensive third. Again, you have to take the systems and roles into account, but Digne would be a decent option at the right price.