xGOLD: Were there better value alternatives to Ben Chilwell this window?
As we know, Chelsea have had a busy transfer window to date bringing in high-profile reinforcements across the board.
One signing that caught our eye was that of Ben Chilwell, for a reported £50m.
Whilst there is little doubt that Chilwell is one of the best English left-backs around currently and is an upgrade on Marcos Alonso or Emerson in many aspects, we did wonder whether there were any other top-quality left-backs who match the same outputs as Chilwell but would have cost Chelsea less. Therefore, we asked the hypothetical question.
As ever, we ran our xGOLD tool to see what it came back with - and then sanity checked each player suggested to see whether they would have been a good alternative.
This is what we found, and we start off with the profile of Chilwell.
Ben Chilwell is a 23-year-old left-back who recently signed for Chelsea from Leicester City. He stands at 178cm tall and has a lean, but strong build.
He’s a dangerous, attacking full-back who whips crosses in accurately from deep areas. He is a creative outlet from the left-flank and pushes far forward in attack, notching three goals and eight assists in all competitions last season. Three of these assists came in the same game for England against Montenegro where he showcased his ability from set-pieces as well as when driving forward at pace and still being able to pick out players accurately with lofted passes or crosses.
He will get into advanced positions inside the opposition 18-yard-box and is an excellent option for a diagonal cross-field pass behind the opposition right-back where he will make a late run forward and gain possession either just outside or in the 18-yard-box. From these areas he’s confident shooting, or pulling the ball back for a forward inside.
He’s an excellent ball progressor, either as a passer or a dribbler, and when doing the latter he’s happy to cut inside onto his right foot should there be space inside.
Chilwell stands out as a left-back not just for his attacking prowess but for his well-rounded game, where he is also an excellent defender. He is very strong aerially and holds his own too with ground duels. His reading of the game is outstanding too, and he makes a good amount of interceptions as well.
He is strong in the tackle and yet doesn’t dive in, waiting for the right time to dispossess the opponent. For all of his attacking talent he doesn’t stray too far away from his defence and is quick to regain shape in defensive transition.
The xGOLD shortlist
Renan Lodi is a 22-year-old Brazilian left-back, currently playing for Atletico Madrid. He stands at 173 cm tall and has a slim build.
It is easy to assume that due to playing for Diego Simeone, Lodi is going to be a particularly defensive-minded full-back but that is far from the case.
He immediately stands out due to his lightning-quick pace and ability to almost single-handedly provide the attacking impetus down his left flank. He generally makes late surging runs to support the attack down the left flank, and perfectly suits a team that looks to counter-attack with pace, like Atletico do so perfectly.
On the ball he is a dangerous crosser who can whip in balls from deeper areas, or he can take the ball to the line and pulls it back.
He is an outstanding dribbler, taking on players with speed and hitting the space behind them with a big aggressive touch and a turn of pace, but also having the ability to play in tight spaces and he is confident taking on a defender regardless of where he is on the pitch.
He isn’t just the type of left back to get the ball and drive forward either and he is pretty accurate with his progressive passing, with the ability to relatively consistently hit the target man with a longer, diagonal pass, or at the very least play accurate progressive passes into the final third.
His speed and tutelage under Simeone make him a consistent performer in the defensive phase of the game too. He is quick to transition into defence and regardless of how much he attacks, he is rarely caught out of position.
Lodi tackles with real aggression although does have a tendency to dive in, but nevertheless he is involved in a high amount of defensive duels and has a more than respectable win percentage. On top of this, despite being below average height, he doesn’t drastically underperform aerially.
Sergio Reguilon is a 23-year-old left-back who has most recently spent time on a loan at Sevilla. The Spaniard is 178cm tall and has a lean build.
Reguilon is attack-minded and generally takes up a high starting position on the left-flank, most associated with a wing-back rather than an orthodox left-back. He has an excellent turn of pace that makes him difficult to track defensively with his late runs into the 18-yard-box, or when he decides to take on a defender in a 1 v 1 situation with an aggressive touch past them into space.
He is a strong dribbler, who can cut inside onto his right foot as frequently and effectively as he might do onto his stronger left, who is best when driving at pace into the opposition half.
However, it is his ability as a crosser where he is truly outstanding. Reguilon attempts a high number of crosses and completes over 40% which is phenomenal. He whips the ball across the face of goal from deep areas or in positions closer to the 18-yard-box, and these enticing crosses are perfect for instinctive finishers to pounce on. However, there is more than just this kind of cross to his repertoire and he adjusts accordingly to the situation as it presents itself, and his decision-making on what kind of cross to play is excellent.
He is a very aggressive, attacking left-back who always wants to play forward and will contribute heavily in the offensive phase, even taking a decent amount of shots himself.
As a defender he is solid if unspectacular with defensive and aerial duel win percentages both over 50%.
His pace allows him to tuck back into the defensive shape quickly on transition, and he has the ability to get up and down his wing all game. Similarly to Lodi, this means he can be given a good deal of authority to play almost solely on his own on the left side, and allow the winger in front to cut inside into the half-spaces.
Verdonk is a 23-year-old Dutch left-back who last played for FC Twente, on loan from Feyenoord. He is now a free agent. Verdonk is 172cm and has a slight build.
Verdonk isn’t as quick as the other two left-backs mentioned in this document, but he is by no means slow, and has the acceleration to cause any defender trouble in a 1 v 1 situation, whilst he can also contribute with late runs to support in attack on his left flank.
He is a good ball progressor with an eye for a pass, and will often look to whip curved line-breaking passes behind the opposition defence, from well inside his own half for centre-forwards to run onto. These often prove to be very effective. He also has the ability to hit accurate cross-field diagonal passes, whilst he can play more simple line-breaking passes into the feet of his midfield or centre-forward teammates.
He is a proficient dribbler with a completion of over 50% on his attempts from last season, albeit he attempts less than either Lodi or Reguilon. He generally sits a little deeper and is more of an orthodox left-back who will absolutely push forward and support the but his starting position is a little deeper and more conventional.
Nevertheless, he’s still good in the final third and has a composure on the ball despite being under pressure. He crosses very well and can be relied upon to be a consistent attacking threat from his flank.
Verdonk is a robust defender who tackles with force. Last season his defensive duel win percentage was over 60% whilst he won just shy of 50% of his aerial duels. His consistent defensive numbers show he is an all-round performer. Positionally he is excellent, rarely getting pulled away from his defence, but if he does get isolated, he has the pace and patience, as well as reading of the game, to perform admirably in 1 v 1 defensive duels.
xGOLD presented us with ten alternatives to Ben Chilwell and having watched all ten closely, we felt that these three were the most interesting potential alternatives on the market.
Each are very similar in style to Ben Chilwell and, Lodl aside perhaps, all three would have been available at less than the €50m Chelsea invested in Chilwell.
Interestingly, Verdonk is a name we were also tracking as a potential option for Leicester if Chilwell did leave this window.
If you are interested in finding out more about how xGOLD can help your club or agency in player identification do get in touch - although this example is at the Champions League level we have working examples that show how it can work for clubs at all levels of the professional game.