Ben Chilwell’s reintegration into Chelsea’s starting lineup came as little surprise to supporters who had seen his quality under both Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel last season.
The English wing-back has become one of the Blues’ most productive players this season, further vindicating the £50 million the club paid Leicester City for his services in August 2020. Chilwell has already notched three Premier League goals this term, netting in consecutive games against Southampton, Brentford and Norwich.
But looking away from the 23-year-old’s unique quality, Tuchel’s management of him is further proof of the German’s careful judgement with such a big squad to balance.
“It was difficult, I was disappointed that I wasn’t playing in such a massive competition in England – I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” Chilwell said in an interview with The Telegraph earlier this week when asked about his Euro 2020 woes. “I just needed to make sure I’m ready, I’ll come through this stronger and better on the other side.
“You think ‘I’m going back to Chelsea, it’s a new season and the last game I played was the Champions League final’ so again, of course it was disappointing because as a footballer I want to play every single match.
“It wasn’t so much mental fatigue. Me and the manager at Chelsea had a very honest conversation where he did say to me ‘you know, I feel like mentally at the moment you’re just, in training, you’re pushing a bit too much to try and get back in the team – we love you here, we know the qualities you possess, just relax a little bit, you’re going to get back in’.”
Tuchel kept his word and despite having to wait until early October to make his first Premier League start of the season, Chilwell now looks to be a fixture in the Chelsea starting XI.
A similar dynamic occurred between Chilwell and Tuchel in the opening weeks of his reign at Stamford Bridge back in January, when the new coach brought the previously out of favour Marcos Alonso back into the fold, with the Spaniard starting against Burnley and Tottenham.
Although Tuchel rotated the two players regularly, it was a quick switch from the equilibrium Chilwell had become used to under Frank Lampard where he was the undisputed first-choice.
Despite the setback, Chilwell eventually proved himself to be the stronger option of the two, leading to his starring performance in Porto to nullify the talent of Riyad Mahrez and having a hand in the build-up to Chelsea’s winning goal to lift the Champions League trophy in May.
Although Chilwell’s quality is undeniable, the words of the England international further illustrate the wise management of Tuchel to spark the best reaction from his players. Few players in Chelsea’s current squad appear isolated or forgotten, with many fringe figures who were written off in pre-season proving to be of use.
This feels dissimilar to previous examples of coaches at Chelsea who preferred to use a smaller squad, identifying their ‘favourite’ figures who they trusted and sticking with them. Although this approach gleaned title-winning campaigns under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, there was clearly collateral damage for those who were not in the favoured group.
Mourinho is famed for his ruthless nature in dismissing players he deems not up to the task, and for a time this worked as Chelsea competed for and won the biggest prizes. From the outside, supporters care little if their team is winning.
But you gaze through his second tenure and the obvious duo of Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah come to mind, quickly forced to the fringes before being sold.
Romelu Lukaku’s missed penalty led to him being shipped out on loan to Everton, not returning to Stamford Bridge until 2021 under Tuchel. Juan Cuadrado, André Schürrle, Filipe Luís; all players who could have given more to Chelsea but weren’t given sufficient chance to prove it.
Similar could be aimed at Lampard last season, with players like Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Alonso barely getting a look in prior to Tuchel’s arrival.
Just like you, we can’t get enough of Chelsea! That’s why we’ve decided to supplement our expansive Chelsea coverage on football.london with a more fan-oriented platform catered specifically to Chelsea fans – CareFreeChelsea.
Writers and presenters who share your passion for the Blues will be producing written, visual and audio content to reflect the mood in the stands as well as the press box.
Looking at how Tuchel has revived forgotten figures like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, giving minutes to dismissed characters like Ross Barkley or surprise debuts to Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr. The fact many of these fringe players come in from the cold and perform so impressively speaks volumes of the positive environment being created at Cobham.
Tactical nous is of course a necessity if you want to become an elite-level coach, but Tuchel’s man-management is perhaps what sets him apart from his rivals.
How do you think Chilwell has performed since his move to Chelsea? Follow our CareFree Chelsea writer Daniel Childs on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section.