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Which left-back should Chelsea sign?

The left-back position at Chelsea football club has been modelled and epitomised by Ashley Cole. The Greatest left-back in Premier Leag...

The left-back position at Chelsea football club has been modelled and epitomised by Ashley Cole. The Greatest left-back in Premier League history has not only lit up this position, but represented the era of modern fullbacks that can bomb forward and contribute directly to the attack and get back in time to stop a goal-bound effort off the line, he was immense, talented and dynamic hence why with consistent performances in 15 Years in England, he was regarded as one of the best left-backs the World had seen in recent years. To Replace someone of that calibre was always going to be a tall order for Chelsea. 

The post-Cole era has somewhat been underwhelming, he was immediately replaced with right-back turned left-back, Cesar Azpilicueta, who was already edging Cole out of the door during the 2013-14 season with Mourinho beginning to prefer the young Spaniard at the time over the veteran. Azpilicueta did a good job in an unnatural position at left-back, we even won the league the next season, but Azpi never had the same attacking impact Cole had on the team It’s no jibe at Azpi, he was superb especially as a defender which is his strength. but he was already bringing the sense of unbalance in attack and Hazard had to mostly run that left flank attack on his own. 

Another left-back that was bought to replace Ashley Cole was Filipe Luis, bought from Athletico Madrid. A talented and a high-level player, but it seemed Mourinho preferred Azpi more than Luis at left-back. Luis returned the next season to Atletico. Marcos Alonso was a surprise signing and ended up being the best left-wing-back in the country under Antonio Conte's revolution of 3 at the back that took the country by storm. But when the time came for Alonso to play as a left-back, he was not suited to playing there, especially with the pace of today’s game and Chelsea are looking for a way to sell him. Emerson was next to lay a claim. Although he at times has looked like a Cole-regen, his injury issues seem to take him a step back in his search for consistency, now the club desires to find a starting left-back in the market because none have shown enough to hold down this position for the years to come.

Let us take a look at Chelsea's left-back targets and evaluate what they can bring to this Chelsea team and how they fit into Frank Lampard's system

Ben Chilwell

Club: Leicester
Age: 23
Premier League: 18 Appearances 2 Goals 3 Assists
FA Cup: 1 Appearance 1 Assist
Carabao Cup: 2 Appearances

The young English left-back from the Leicester academy, who is the subject of interest of many top clubs including Chelsea and Manchester City, took the Premier League by storm right from his debut in the Premier League against Everton which Leicester won. Chilwell received praise for his performance and soon established himself as a first-choice left-back under Claude Puel in the 2017-18 season. Blessed with pace and tenacity, Chilwell possesses good crossing ability that can be very useful in Lampard's system and how he wants his full-backs to play, which is high up the pitch and also get back into defence on time which he is very capable of doing.

Chilwell has also shown his defensive prowess on several occasions in his short Premier League career and has also done so this season. He makes 1.5 tackles per game this season, not far off the best-left backs in the league, Robertson who averages 1.6 tackles per game, Lucas Digne who makes a mammoth 2.1 tackles per game, and even Emerson’s 1.6 tackles per game this season. And his 1.1 interceptions per game this season is also just short of those big names that make up to 1.2- 1.3 range, but it shows he is close to the top at 23 years of age. But some concerns linger over the 23-year-old left back’s defensive prowess and tracking runners, and it seems he has a mistake in him, shown with the shocker he had against Man City and Leicester’s patchy form during the festive period.

Another weakness of Chilwell appears to ball retention as shown by his 1.8 bad controls per game and 21.9 possession lost per game, although possession lost can also mean he crosses a lot, which isn’t the case when he only has 0.7 crosses per game, which justifies the stat of losing possession of the ball more than Lampard would like. His long balls also seem to be lacking, with 1.8 long balls per game with 29% accuracy, compared to the best left-backs in the country it is quite below the standard, Andrew Robertson averages a 2.5 long balls per game with a stunning 44% accuracy while losing possession 18.1 times per game, Digne has 1.5 long balls per game at 41% accuracy while also losing possession 20.8 times per game. To show how this possession lost stat helps Digne, he completes 2.3 crosses per game with a 27% accuracy and 2.4 key passes per game while having as much as 7 Big Chances created, which is the same as Mason Mount, and he has 5 Assists to show for it. This shows how much a creative force he is from the left-hand side for Everton. Chilwell though has 5 Big Chances created, which is a good return for an attacking fullback. It shows that Chilwell is a good prospect and is already doing well in the Premier League, he is still average level and needs a lot of work to get to a top left-back level (the level Chelsea require) and he can improve, he is still only 23 years old and the stats and his performances show that he is not much better than Emerson, Chelsea’s current left-back and even he is currently being replaced by Azpilicueta. What Chelsea need now is someone who can immediately elevate the level of the squad from that position, but questions will be asked if he is worth the £60-70 million price tag placed on him, but improvement till the end of the season is welcomed to help his case.

Alejandro Grimaldo

Club: Benfica
Age: 24
Liga NOS:  20 Appearances  6 Assists
Champions League: 6 Appearances
SuperTaca:  1 Appearance 1 Goal

Alejandro Grimaldo is a talented 24-year-old Spanish left-back, he graduated from the famous Barcelona’s ‘La Masia’ academy. Grimaldo signed for Benfica in 2015 after playing for the Barcelona B team for the early part of his career, and it is in Portugal that he has made his name in his young career so far. He has since made 78 Appearances for Benfica and progressing well while developing into a very important member of the squad in his time there.

Grimaldo is regarded as an attacking modern full-back, who has the energy and stamina to bomb up and down the flanks with comfort, possessing a deadly final ball and crossing ability so much that he also Benfica’s set-piece taker. His creative ability is highlighted by his 6 assists in 20 league games this season, which is very good for a fullback, he also has 6 Big Chances created and averages 2.2 Key passes per game which is what attacking midfielders usually possess. Grimaldo also averages 1.9 accurate crosses per game with an accuracy of 31% which is also outstanding showing his quality with a cross, also keep in mind the might be more space and time to deliver a cross in the Liga NOS as compared to the Premier League, but this is a big indicator of his crossing and creative ability. 

Grimaldo is technically adept as shown with his 83% Passing accuracy, with accuracy in his half being 90% and accuracy in the opposition half is 69%. He averages 3.6 Long balls per game with a 59% accuracy, which is outstanding for a fullback, he also averages 1.5 dribbles per game with a dribble accuracy of 55%. Now analySing his defensive qualities, we see that he has been part of a defence that has the most clean-sheets and has been breached less time with just 11 goals conceded and 12 clean sheets, he averages 0.8 interceptions per game, but a mighty 2.1 tackles per game shows he is not afraid to put in a challenge when needed winning possession in the final third 0.6 times per game, but he still tends to get bypassed with 1.8 dribbled past per game. Almost 2 per game which is not good enough defensively, with Robertson, Chilwell and Emerson possessing 0.9, 0.8 and 0.4 respectively. He would have to improve on that if he is to play for any big club.

Grimaldo makes 1.3 clearances per game and wins 52% of his ground duels, while winning only 46% of his aerial duels, which cumulate in winning 51% of his total duels, which means he might have to get stronger too for the Premier League, but that in itself isn’t a big issue because as highlighted by Robertson’s metric, he wins only 52% of his duels, which doesn’t mean he can't improve there as well, while Chiwell wins 53%, Emerson wins a massive 68%, Digne wins 60% too. On the part of ball retention, Grimaldo loses possession 17.5 times per game which is not bad for a creative fullback that tries a lot of crosses and takes setpieces.

With his qualities, Chelsea can look to him to immediately improve their attacking play with his quality crosses, and creativity, adding his expert set-piece deliveries, he will significantly boost Chelsea creativity from the left-hand side and with his technical qualities also, combine well with his winger and his teammates, he is highly regarded and would be a good signing in my opinion, and being only 24 years of age too there is time before he hits his prime.

Club: Porto
Age: 27
Liga NOS:  19 Appearances 7 Goals 5 Assists
Europa League: 6 Appearances  1 Assist
Taca da liga:  3 Appearance 1 Goal

Alex Telles is a technical Brazillian left-back Chelsea has been scouting for years in the Portuguese League. He is known as attacking fullback and widely regarded as the best left-back in the Liga Nos, along with Alex Grimaldo. He started his European career at Galatasaray, had a loan at Inter Milan, but where he caught the eye was at Porto where he has spent the last 4 years and has been putting in consistent performances for the Portuguese giants. This move is indeed a bit late and a player of his immense qualities is meant to playing at the highest level in Europe's top 5 leagues.

 Fernando Otto, his agent, said this:
I believe that maybe one day he will play for Chelsea. I don’t know if it’s going to be this season or the next. But I feel like one day he can play for Chelsea”

Telles is regarded as a skilled, pacey, playmaking attacking full-back, with fantastic crossing ability and a set-piece specialist, especially with the latest purchase of Ziyech from Ajax, Chelsea would be sorted on set pieces if he is to join. He is involved in a lot of goals for a left-back, especially this season, where he is currently enjoying his best season for a left-back. Telles has created 6 Big chances this season in the league and 4 in the Europa League, and completes 2.1 Key passes in the League, while making an insane 3.2 key passes in the Europa league too showing his playmaking ability, and that is exactly what we need at the left-back, especially when Emerson, Azpilicueta and Alonso don't produce enough quality crosses to help Chelsea create more goal-scoring chances from that side like Reece James does on the right. 

Telles produces 2.5 accurate crosses with a 27% accuracy in the league, he also has 2.7 crosses with an even better success rate of 32% in the Europa League. He combines well with his teammates and possesses good passing ability, averaging 80% passing accuracy per game. Telles is very comfortable going 1v1 against another full-back to put a dangerous cross in and is skilled enough to beat his man, even though he doesn’t do it too frequently with 0.6 dribbles per game but a 63% dribble accuracy.

He isn’t the strongest but can hold his own in a duel, with 4.3 duels won per game and a 51% accuracy and he wins a good amount of aerial duels too with 1.5 per game and a 57% success rate. Telles has great ball retention and press resistance evading challenges to keep hold of the ball which makes him get fouled a lot for a full back, 1.8 per game. Defensively his greatest strength is his ability to read the game, making timed tackles and interceptions and some goal line saving clearances, he makes 1.2 interceptions per game and 1.3 tackles per game which is a decent amount and he only gets dribbled past 0.6 times per game which is promising and shows he rarely allows a man to pass him.

This signing will fit the profile of a Lampard fullback, pacy, attacking, playmaking fullback, with fantastic crossing ability and good defensive awareness and set-piece ability. Telles would immediately boost the quality in the Chelsea side and he is well in his prime at 27 years old and would be able to give Chelsea at least 5 years at the top level providing experience, and Emerson could learn a thing or two from his Brazillian compadre if he is to remain. It would also be a relatively cheap signing for around £40 million after failing to agree on a new contract, it might seem that Alex Telles is surely on his way in the summer and Chelsea should take advantage of this deal.

Jose Gaya

Club: Valencia
Age: 24
La Liga:  17 Appearances
Champions League: 4 Appearances 
Copa del Rey: 1 Appearance
Super cup:  1 Appearance

Jose Gaya is a solid defensive-minded left-back, young and a Spanish international keeping out the likes of Jordi Alba out of the team. He graduated from Valencia’s academy and has made over 200 appearances for the club. He is one of the best defensive left-backs in La Liga and still has great potential to be one of the best in the world. He is the kind of defender that can be part of a dogged defence as shown by his performances against Chelsea in the champions league, especially in the 1-0 loss to Valencia at home.

Jose Gaya possesses great tackling ability, concentration and reading of the game. He is hard to get past, a very gritty defender and provides good width in attack and supports the attack well, combining very well with his teammates around him, he has a penchant for getting to the byline and putting in cutbacks, and puts in a decent amount of early crosses, but crossing isn’t his best ability. Gaya puts in 0.5 crosses per game with an accuracy of 16%, he doesn’t create much chances, but with the defensive mindedness of Valencia as a team, it is a bit expected as shown by his 1 Big Chance created and 0.4 key passes per game in the league this season. 

However, holding onto the ball is a strength of his and he can evade challenges too with is 1.1 dribbles per game with 55% accuracy. He is small, but his gritty side allows him to win a good amount of duels, with 5.3 duels won per game, having 57% accuracy. He normally holds up the ball well and provides width, in the attacks and doesn’t try to create too much, which shows in his 12.8 possession lost per game.

Gaya's end product in the attacking phase is something he can improve on because at Chelsea he would have more touches of the ball than at Valencia if he is to be signed. But his defensive side is already at a high level, with a staggering 2.1 tackles per game, which also has some part to do with Valencia not having a lot of the ball, but he is a hard man to get past having a 0.5 dribbled past per game in the league. He makes 0.8 interceptions per game and makes 1.5 clearances per game, he is quite short, so he doesn't win a lot of Aerial duels with 1 per game with a 41% success rate. 

If Chelsea wants to bring back solidity in defence first, then this is their man. He still has some work to do on his offensive output because for Chelsea he would get forward a lot and he has to create more chances than he normally does. He still has time at 24 to do that.

Written by - @SeunMobolaji
Edit by - @KristenPulisic

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