Last summer Ben Chilwell was on the top of former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard's transfer target wish list. Chilwell's transfer from Leicester City was the club's third-most expensive acquisition last summer, just behind Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, respectively. While the two latter were meant to facilitate additional offense, Chilwell was brought in to help fortify a failing defense.
The idea in signing Chilwell was to reinforce a weak back-line by adding a proven left-back who not only performed well for a successful Leicester squad, but also has 12 England caps to his name. The left-back made an immediate impact to the Chelsea squad upon his arrival, but his performance tailed off near the end of Lampard's tenure. It is reasonable to assume that some of that degradation on performance could have been in part due to the lack of morale surrounding the club in the waning days of Lampard's term.
With Lampard's departure came the arrival of Thomas Tuchel, and a subsequent "fresh start" for the club and players within the squad. It also came with a change in tactics, as Tuchel is well heralded for across the football landscape. That change means that players that were previously on the fringe, such as Jorginho, Antonio Rudiger, Azpilicueta and most pressing in Chilwell's case- Marcos Alonso, have all seen a revitalisation under Tuchel. Much of it can be chalked up to the three-man backfield that Tuchel has employed throughout the majority of his time with Chelsea. That effectively eliminates the need for a traditional left-back like Chilwell, while prioritising the wing-back position. Furthermore, according to The Atheltic's Simon Johnson, Chilwell with incredible self-awareness, understands his drop from the squad due to his recent performance and likely won't make too much of it in the interim.
However, what Chilwell does have in his favour is talent, youth and quite frankly, the hefty transfer fee tag of £50 million. Chilwell will need to make the most of his opportunities when he gets them, something he did against a very strong Manchester United side this past Sunday. In fact, he was one of the highlights on the pitch for Chelsea on the day. Yet, the fact remains that Tuchel clearly prefers Alonso in the wing-back position, which is his natural position, more so than Chilwell.
What could be of boost to Chilwell's chances of receiving more minutes is the return of centre-back Thiago Silva. Tuchel very well could return to a more conventional four-man back that would utilise a left-back, which means the more consistent utilisation of Chilwell. It would also give Chelsea's attack a more stable defense to play in front of and potentially open up more attacking opportunities.
It could also open more opportunities for players like Reece James, a prolific and electric player that has also seen declining minutes since Tuchel's arrival. Both Chilwell and James are well known for their speed and both can play sound defense while also being a threat up the field. That speed is something that Tuchel may want to utilise more heavily in the counter.
Regardless, it is clear that Chilwell has work ahead of him in order to prove not just his place on the Chelsea squad, but that of his country's squad in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The left-back has played just 228 minutes under Tuchel, but performances like Sunday's and the potential shift in tactics, could lead to Chilwell not only seeing more playing time, but also cement his position.
Tuchel will continue to tinker with the team until he feels comfortable with the product. Perhaps that never happens, and players will always wonder what their role on the club is despite the intense mode of communication in to which Tuchel prescribes, and has been praised, and criticised for in the past. In that case, players like Chilwell, will continue to be on the outside looking in trying to fight to win the manager's approval and trust. Unfortunately for the £50 million left-back, it could have profound consequences on his career and club if Tuchel continues to prioritise others over him.