Exactly 365 days ago, Chelsea continued their mammoth summer spending spree by announcing the £45 million arrival of Ben Chilwell from Leicester City.
Frank Lampard had made no secret of his desire to strengthen his options at left-back, and despite links to Nicolás Tagliafico, Alex Telles and Sergio Reguilón, Chilwell remained his number-one target.
Obviously, the side he joined a year ago and the one we see today are very different.
The Blues have a different head coach, the team play in a totally different system, oh and there’s also the small matter of Chelsea now being European champions.
While a lot’s changed at Stamford Bridge since Chilwell’s arrival, the left-back’s quality performances have remained a constant, and Chelsea’s decision to spend such an eye-watering amount of money on a 23-year-old already looks to have been vindicated.
At Chilwell’s unveiling, director Marina Granovskaia claimed the former Leicester man had the ability to ‘adapt very quickly to being a Chelsea player’, a statement which perhaps suggests why Chelsea opted to sign him over some of the cheaper options available.
Once Chilwell had recovered from an injury picked up at Leicester in his final season with the Foxes, he quickly became Lampard’s first-choice on the left-hand side of a backline including Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma and Reece James.
His first full Premier League start for the Blues couldn’t have gone much better, rifling in the opener and assisting Kurt Zouma’s looping header in a comfortable 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
Following his dream debut, Chilwell continued to impress at both ends of the pitch, using his agility to win aerial duels and his pace to snuff out attacks on the Chelsea left. Even in the early days of his Chelsea career, it felt like he’d been at the club his whole life.
By November he’d already bagged his second goal for the club, again contributing to a dominant win as Lampard’s men brushed aside Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge.
After the win over the Blades, Chilwell was grinning from ear to ear as he told reporters: “It’s a dream at the moment playing for Chelsea. Running forward and having the likes of Hakim, Reece and others who want to come in and cross – it’s perfect for me.”
By early December, Lampard’s side were top of the league and looking strong. The morale in the group was clearly as high as it had been for a while, something Chilwell eluded to prior to his side’s away clash with Everton.
“When we go into matches we feel like we can’t really lose at the moment, which is a great thing to have as long as you work hard with it,” he said. “I knew the expectations were to win titles and trophies. That’s the reason I wanted to come.”
The comment proved to be poorly timed as very quickly the mood would radically change around Chelsea.
Defeats away to Everton and Wolves saw the Blues slip down the table, while Chilwell’s progress in the first team was curtailed after picking up a knock against West Ham.
The ankle injury was expected to rule him out for the rest of December, but he recovered in time to feature against Arsenal on Boxing Day.
The former Leicester man was quickly given the nickname “Lazarus” following his rapid recovery, but even his return to the side couldn’t prevent Chelsea from slumping to a 3-1 defeat at Arsenal.
Chilwell played well and assisted Olivier Giroud’s goal in a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa only 48 hours later, but the point at Villa did little to lift the mood in the Chelsea camp.
By late January, Lampard was replaced by Thomas Tuchel and Chilwell’s place in the starting line-up was no longer guaranteed. The German switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Marcos Alonso suddenly the preferred choice at left-back.
This would be the first real test of his Chelsea career.
Many questioned whether Chilwell had the ability to adapt to a wing-back role, though strong defensive performances against Manchester United and Liverpool soon put to bed such doubts.
Chilwell may not have joined Chelsea expecting to alter his position so quickly, but chaos is always just around the corner at Stamford Bridge and it’s on the players to adapt quickly to any changes the club make.
Chilwell’s solid partnership with Antonio Rudiger on the left of Chelsea’s defence was key to their run to the Champions League final in May.
He once again found his goalscoring touch as he rounded Porto keeper Agustin Marchesin to slot home Chelsea’s second in the first leg of the quarter-final, and his performance level in the semi-final triumph over Real Madrid was exemplary.
It’s easy to label the final win over Manchester City as the best performance of Chilwell’s maiden season at the club, but it simply was flawless.
Keeping the tricky Riyad Mahrez quiet on the night was no easy task, but Chilwell rose to the challenge. The match also highlighted the attacking threat he can pose as he had a big hand in the creation of Kai Havertz’s winning goal.
When Chelsea announced the signing of Chilwell there were doubts from a handful of fans on social media, with some feeling the money would have been better spent on Sergio Reguilon.
However, former world-class left-back Ashley Cole never doubled Chilwell’s talent and ability to settle into life in west London.
“I think it’s important that you didn’t lose the identity of Chelsea. Of course, first and foremost he’s a very good player, a young player with a lot of room to grow and develop, but also he’s a good character.
“Whenever you’re building a new team you want that togetherness and that camaraderie. I think bringing in someone that was familiar with the players that were already there and seeing the progression that he had at Leicester City to bring him to Chelsea, a very good club, at the time there was a manager that was always trying to help these young players and develop them.
“It was a great stage and time for him to come to Chelsea. Again that team spirit is needed and I think he does that whether he does play or not.
“He trains 100%. If he’s dropped, he will understand it. So he’s got that good mentality so you’ve got to try and bring these players into the club. Not just because of the potential they have but also to really gel and put this team together.”
It feels like Chilwell is not only one of the best young players in his position, but also a great character to have in the dressing room.
Given he’s still only 24 and already a European Cup winner, the sky really is the limit for him at Stamford Bridge.
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Source by Football London