As soon as Ben Chilwell went down injured in a Champions League match against Juventus last month, it was clear Chelsea had an obstacle to overcome at left-back. Until then, the England international had been a key figure for Thomas Tuchel’s side. Now, the Blues have been left depleted in an integral area of the pitch.
Tuchel’s system depends on its wing backs. With the German coach quick to tuck his wide men in behind his central striker, Chilwell was important to the way Chelsea found width down the left flank. With the 25-year-old expected to be sidelined until the end of the season, Tuchel will have to find another option.
This has led to speculation linking Chelsea with a number of left-back targets. Marcos Alonso has been used as Chilwell’s deputy but the Spaniard is a defensive liability and has cost Chelsea more than once in recent matches at the back. Chelsea need better if they are to challenge for major honours this season.
Lucas Digne appeared to be one such target with the Frenchman currently out of favour at Everton. This, however, is not a reflection of his ability. Indeed, Digne is a proven Premier League performer and would improve Chelsea’s options. However, the 28-year-old has now signed for Aston Villa.
Transfer speculation has also linked Chelsea with Theo Hernandez. The AC Milan star is currently one of the best left backs in Europe and would certainly strengthen Tuchel’s squad, to the point that Chilwell wouldn’t be assured of his place in the first team even when he returns from injury. At 24 years old, Hernandez is only likely to improve further.
However, AC Milan would demand a hefty transfer fee for one of their prize assets. Recent reports claim Chelsea are willing to spend €45m on Hernandez in the January window, but that might not be enough to convince the Serie A club to part with the left-back. AC Milan are widely believed to want a fee closer to $75m.
It’s not even certain that Hernandez would desire a move to Chelsea, at least not at this specific moment in time. AC Milan are in the midst of a race with Inter for the Scudetto. Under Stefano Pioli, the Rossoneri have built a team capable of winning titles and Hernandez is as important as anyone else to that team. Would he want to leave that behind just before the moment of culmination?
Alex Sandro might be a more realistic option with Juventus unlikely to demand a fee as large as AC Milan would want for Hernandez. The Brazilian is experienced at the elite level of the club and international game and will be out of contract at the Allianz Stadium in the summer of 2023, raising the possibility of an early sale by the Bianconeri in order to collect a fee.
Tuchel could make the decision to recall Ian Maatsen from his loan spell at Coventry City, where the 19-year-old has impressed in the Championship. The Chelsea manager has already demonstrated his faith in youth by turning to the likes of Trevoh Chalobah and Lewis Halls and so it wouldn’t be without precedent if Maatsen found himself in the Chelsea team before the end of the season.
Whatever route Chelsea take in recruiting a new left-back, they have until the end of the month to assess their options and make a move. They can’t rely on Alonso in Chilwell’s absence but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should spend a fortune on a player like Hernandez when that money was never intended for another left-back. Tuchel has plenty to ponder.
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