Ben Chilwell: Why the Leicester left-back could be the next big thing

Youngster is beginning to fulfil his potential under Claude Puel

Ben Chilwell has made a strong start to the Premier League season for Leicester City

Ben Chilwell has played every minute of Leicester's Premier League season so far. It is a big deal for the player himself. Despite making his debut for the Foxes during their title-winning season, it was only in April that he completed three consecutive league games for the club for the first time. Aged 21, Chilwell is now showing why he has long been tipped for the top.

Ben Chilwell has made more high-intensity sprints for Leicester City than any other player so far in the Premier League season
Image: Chilwell has made more high-intensity sprints than any other Leicester player

He was impressive in the opening game of the Premier League season against Manchester United at Old Trafford, with his energy standing out. Chilwell made 22 high-intensity sprints that night - more than any other player on the pitch. In the subsequent wins over Wolves and Southampton, he was clocked as the fastest man on either side. He is making a difference.

With 33-year-old Ashley Young the player in possession as England's left wing-back at World Cup in the summer, there is the opportunity to push hard for international recognition. Here, with the help of former Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare, we take a look at Chilwell's prospects for the future and the journey that he has been on to get to this point.

The youth team

Chilwell has represented England at U18, U19, U20 and U21 level with his name often mentioned in scouting circles because of his rare ability with his trusted left foot. Arsenal and Liverpool were thought to be tracking him even before he had made his senior debut for Leicester. He was 19 when that came but the wait was a frustrating one.

Craig Shakespeare was the assistant at Leicester for most of Chilwell's teenage years before taking the top job himself. He remembers that period in the player's development well. "We were well aware of him but we were not quite sure what level he would hit," he tells Sky Sports. "Ben got frustrated by his lack of game time which is a big issue for young players."

Jamie Vardy celebrates his equaliser during the Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final between Leicester City and Chelsea at The King Power Stadium on March 18, 2018
Image: Chilwell celebrating alongside Leicester's long-time hero Jamie Vardy

The summer of 2015 was a big one. "He went away with the first team in pre-season and some of them grow into it," adds Shakespeare. "Ben did and he didn't look out of place around the senior players. He learned from that and seemed to grow a few inches. Then he went on loan to Huddersfield which I thought was a really good move for him at the time."

The loan move

Chilwell joined Huddersfield at a good time in more ways than one. He was the first signing made by a then little-known David Wagner and it proved a positive experience. "It is unbelievable how fast he learns," Wagner said at the time. "He is cool on the ball and has good technique and endurance. He is good going forward as well as being able to defend."

Ben Chilwell in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Huddersfield Town at Griffin Park on December 19, 2015 in London, England.
Image: Chilwell grew up a lot during a short spell with David Wagner's Huddersfield

Although Huddersfield wanted to keep him, he was recalled from his loan spell in January 2016 after making eight Championship appearances and went straight into the Leicester team for an FA Cup tie against Tottenham. "He had developed physically and when he came back from Huddersfield, he looked more ready," says Shakespeare.

The breakthrough

After Leicester's Premier League triumph, Chilwell made his Premier League debut on Boxing Day of the following season under Claudio Ranieri before appearing in a Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid under Shakespeare. His first senior goal came in a heavy defeat to Tottenham in the final week of the season.

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But it was only more recently that Chilwell really confirmed himself as a regular starter. "When I was there we had Christian Fuchs, of course, but he started to play more regularly last year and I think the time was right," says Shakespeare. "I think Ben is going to be given that opportunity now and hopefully he can progress even further."

The quality

As Chilwell gains confidence and supporters get to see more of him, his qualities are coming to the fore. Leicester boss Claude Puel has praised his ability to "take the space to join the attack" and described him as a very interesting player. "He shows quality and pace, he is comfortable with the ball and he is powerful," he said during last season.

Shane Long closes down Ben Chilwell at St Mary's Stadium
Image: Chilwell is now playing consistently under Leicester boss Claude Puel

Back in December, Puel did also suggest that there was a need to improve tactically but Shakespeare believes that there have been signs of that in Chilwell's performances since then. "His one-against-one defending has really improved by playing regularly," he explains. "He is a likeable young man, he wants to learn and he wants to get better.

"His strengths are definitely going forward. He is very athletic and very good at getting into the final third. It might also be a bit surprising, because he is not the biggest, that he is also very good in the air. So even as a full-back, when he has to cover he can do it. It is pleasing to see that he is getting more game time and I think that he can have a really good career."

The future

Just how good that career proves to be remains to be seen, of course. Puel has spoken of his hope that Chilwell can progress to the national team and given his form he is unlikely to be too far away from getting the call from Gareth Southgate. England operate with wing-backs not conventional full-backs but Shakespeare does not think that this will be an issue.

Image: Chilwell has represented England for a number of age-group sides

"Obviously he can play as a left-back but I think he will be able to play as a wing-back too," he explains. "I also think he will be very good in the left side of a three-man defence. The reason I think that is because of his athleticism. We have seen that with Kyle Walker in the England team and he has similar attributes. Ben is very quick over the first ten yards.

"I think he can progress. I know he has already made the England U21 team but he is at a good club in Leicester and I think there is scope for him to go even further." Chilwell has the flexibility and he has the form. The next test is on Saturday against Mohamed Salah and Liverpool. It does not get much more difficult but it seems that Chilwell has the characteristics to cope.

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