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Chilwell vs Alonso: How Tuchel flipped Chelsea’s left-back debate on its head



Frank Lampard had left the Spain international out in the cold after a blazing row earlier in the season, but he now finds himself back in favour

While Frank Lampard never really got to grips with figuring out what his best Chelsea team was during the final months of his tenure, he did at least have the left-back position locked down.

Ben Chilwell’s arrival in a £50 million ($69m) deal from Leicester City over the summer, coupled with Marcos Alonso having been ostracised in west London, meant that there were very few selection debates to be had in that area of the pitch.

But as with most things at Stamford Bridge since Thomas Tuchel took over the reins, a previously unforeseen scenario is playing out for the Blues right now.

Alonso’s career looked dead and buried back in October following Chilwell’s arrival and a disastrous first-half performance from the Spain international as Chelsea shipped three goals away at West Brom in the early weeks of the season.

Lampard pinned the blame on Alonso at half-time before substituting him, with Alonso choosing to watch the second half of the 3-3 draw from the team coach rather than the touchline or away dressing room.

The 30-year-old was not happy with the language Lampard used towards him nor that he had been singled out for what was a terrible showing by almost the whole team against Slaven Bilic’s newly-promoted side, and was keen to let the manager know in what turned into a blazing row.

That proved to be Alonso’s final appearance under Lampard, and not just on the pitch. The former Real Madrid trainee did not even make another matchday squad under the Englishman, so far out of the picture was he.

Chelsea looked to offload Alonso in both the summer and January transfer windows, but there was little interest shown in a player whose £150,000-a-week wages are prohibitive given the financial realities of a Covid-19 world.

Instead he remained with the Premier League giants, and given how prominent he has been since Tuchel replaced Lampard, he may well be glad he did.

A number of players have benefitted from Tuchel’s arrival, but few have seen their fortunes change for the better as much as Alonso, with the left-sider having started four of the German’s six games in charge ahead of Saturday’s clash with Southampton.

Tuchel’s switch to playing a 3-4-3 has seen Alonso return to his favoured wing-back role, where he is given the freedom to attack much as he did during Antonio Conte’s reign.

The fact that Alonso has slotted straight back in is credit to the player himself, particularly given his presumed lack of match fitness having not played a minute of competitive football since September.

“After a tough time not being involved much in games, I am so happy to be back playing and helping the team,” Alonso said in Chelsea’s matchday programme last week. “Also, the way it went for me in my first match back was a good reward for all the hard training during this time.

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“I’m looking forward to more and I think we are on the right path to be where we have to be. I felt good in the first games back.

“There was always a lot of training. When the team were playing, I was back at the training ground, working with Will Tullett [fitness coach], and I am very grateful to all the staff for sticking with me and doing the hard work behind the scenes.”

Naturally where there is a winner, there must also be a loser, and Chilwell is certainly the latter in this situation.

The 24-year-old has gone from starting all but one of Lampard’s final 16 league games in charge to being named in just two of Tuchel’s line-ups so far, with there now concerns over the amount of game time he will get ahead of this summer’s European Championship.

“Yes, if he is [worried] I can understand,” Tuchel told reporters last week. “He has had some difficult decisions against him, where they were tight choices.

“I spoke to him before the Tottenham match and said: ‘You have to trust me now that I see your talent and potential’. I see also Chilly is a very nice guy, reflective and an intelligent guy.

“I maybe felt it in the first days that it is possible that he thinks a lot about this situation, but hopefully not too much because he can trust himself and us as a staff that he can keep pushing and we will find possibilities to reward him.”

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To put the whole selection debate in simple terms, Chilwell is a better left-back, but is not as good a wing-back as Alonso.

Tuchel is keen for his wing-backs to form part of a five-man unit that are free to attack with relative freedom, while midfielders Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic join the three centre-backs to form a five-man defensive group.

Though Chilwell can certainly make an impact in the final third having provided five goals and seven assists since the start of the 2019-20 Premier League season, his impact pales in comparison to that of Alonso, who has scored 21 league goals since joining Chelsea in 2016.

Over the course of his league career, Alonso averages 1.66 shots and 2.63 touches in the opposition box per game. Chilwell, by comparison, attempts 0.62 shots and takes 1.59 touches inside the 18-yard area every time he takes to the field.

It is clear that the goalposts have moved in terms of what is expected of Chilwell, but he will need to adapt quickly if he is to convince Gareth Southgate that he should remain in his thoughts for the Euros.

Few would have expected Alonso to leapfrog him in the pecking order, but Tuchel is very quickly putting his own stamp on things at Stamford Bridge.

It is up to Lampard’s former favourites to adapt.


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