PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is Trevoh Chalobah?
When it was announced that Trevoh Chalobah would be joining a Ligue 1 club for the 2020/21 season, having just come off two successive loan spells at the lower end of the Championship with Ipswich Town and Huddersfield Town, some eyebrows were raised.
A 20-year-old Englishman without a properly nailed-down position, mainly having played in midfield for Huddersfield but filling in at both right-back and centre-back towards the end of the season, was taking the step to a top-five league, and one abroad at that.
Newly-promoted FC Lorient handed Chalobah the number eight shirt, signifying a willingness not only to deploy the Chelsea loanee in midfield but also to give him a significant role in Christope Pélissier’s side.
Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, but having moved with his family to South London as a toddler, Chalobah joined Chelsea’s academy in 2008 at the age of nine, aiming to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Nathaniel, who was already an England under-16 international by that point. He ascended through the Cobham ranks, playing alongside multiple current Chelsea stars like Mason Mount and Reece James and often captaining Chelsea academy sides that won it all at youth level.
Equally comfortable at the heart of defence as in midfield, Chalobah’s two years on loan in the Championship were spent productively as he became accustomed with the men’s game, but a loan move abroad to one of Europe’s finest leagues has led to him blossoming into more than just a prospect for the future.
Trevoh Chalobah's Style of Play
Cutting an imposing figure in midfield, Chalobah’s built yet mobile 6’ 3” frame is the main foundation of his game. One of its primary benefits is his long legs that enable him to stretch and win loose balls, landing him in the 99th percentile for both interceptions and clearances among top-five league midfielders. Despite this, his defensive positioning must not be overlooked: he is excellent at tracking runners and manipulating his body position to cover space.
Midfielders capable of playing the conventional role of a ‘number six’ or ‘single pivot’ who excel at defending transitions have become something of a commodity in today’s transfer market, at least at an affordable price for non-super clubs, but Chalobah is one. Anticipation of the game is also a major strength of the 21-year-old’s, which, coupled with the fact that he is so surprisingly nimble given his size, makes him highly proficient at intercepting passes.
Most players of Chalobah’s height (and somewhat bulky frame) wouldn’t be able to adjust their body in such a manner that the Englishman does in this clip in order to intercept the ball.
His starting position is good, but the pass goes slightly further to the side than he would’ve expected, so he quickly shuffles his feet in order to be able to spring his left leg into the ball’s path. This ability to adapt to a different trajectory of the ball in an instant is something that sets great ball-winners apart from good ones – Chalobah made the second-most interceptions per ninety minutes out of all under-21 players in Europe’s top-five leagues this season.
Trevoh Chalobah's Ball-Carrying
Another statistic in which Chalobah stands out is ball-carrying. Again measured against all under-21 players in Europe’s top-five leagues this season, the Englishman has the third-highest dribble success rate with 73.1%. Speaking to beIN SPORTS towards the end of this season, Chalobah spoke of it being the main aspect of his game he had aimed to improve in this season:
“Speaking with my mentor [Claude] Makélélé, who looks after me when I’m here on loan, he says I could do more going forward. He thinks I can drive with the ball more. So I think that was one thing that I have added to my game this season.
If you know what you can do with the ball, you just have to believe in your attributes really, and when I win the ball sometimes if I can’t make a pass then sometimes you can drive with the ball and get the team up the pitch. I think that is what I’m doing well.”
When Chalobah speaks about him driving with the ball in order to get his team up the pitch, he is perfectly describing one of the things he has done best for Lorient this season. Often capitalising on space after tackling an attacker or intercepting a forward pass, Chalobah is excellent at using his body to get in between the ball and any opposition players so that he can drive forwards.
However, the best aspect of Chalobah’s dribbling skill is not the driving with the ball itself, but what takes place immediately beforehand: the Chelsea loanee is a master of moving the ball with his first touch to take his opponent out of the game. He uses his frame well to take advantage of the space that opens up as a result, but it is his initial deftness of touch and awareness of space that is most impressive.
The following clip shows four instances this season when Chalobah’s first touch has wrong-footed the defender and opened up space for him to move into; all four are different types of touches but follow the same principle and are examples of Chalobah’s excellent anticipation and understanding of space.
How can Trevoh Chalobah improve?
The next thing that Chalobah should incorporate into his game is a better final pass at the end of these forward carries. They are useful to get the team up the pitch, but the Englishman slightly too often dribbles down a blind alley that leads to him being forced into attempting a low-percentage pass and ultimately giving the ball away despite the dribble itself being registered as completed.
However, it must be said that in a more attacking team than Lorient – who have been battling relegation this season, often playing in a 5-4-1 low block – he would find this easier, as there would be more players moving to receive the ball either between the lines or high and wide.
On top of an improvement in the passes at the end of his dribbles, the next major development in Chalobah’s game, which he should make a longer-term target, is to add more progression and incisiveness to his passing.
He has a ‘Hollywood’ pass in his locker, as seen in his assist to Terem Moffi for Lorient’s third against Bordeaux, and the technique for both long switches of play and along-the-ground line-breakers is there too, but good frequency of them is not – not yet, at least. Particularly if he continues to play as a wide centre-half in a back three, as he did in the last third of the season for Lorient, more progressive passing in his game is needed.
Forecasting Trevoh Chalobah's Future
Chalobah hasn’t gone the easy way about making a name for himself, but his willingness to buck the trend of most young English players moving up the pyramid at home has already paid off, and in an interesting way too. Speaking to The Guardian in May, he explained the reasons behind his unorthodox journey as having both an unrushed nature and a long-held desire to play abroad: “A lot of people thought I would go to a promotion-chasing side in the Championship or a team in the Premier League.
I just think there’s no rush to where I want to get to. From the first season at Ipswich, I wanted to play abroad. Now I’m playing against teams like PSG, Marseille, Lyon.” As it happens, one of those teams he is so happy to be playing against, Marseille, were one of the multiple top-half Ligue 1 clubs linked with him in the January transfer window.
With his Chelsea deal set to expire in summer 2023, and him extremely unlikely to agree to sign an extension, this upcoming summer window is the last chance the Blues have to sell him at full value. It’s likely that he will get that move to a mid-table or top-half Ligue 1 club, and if he does well there then there is no doubt that Premier League clubs will be clamouring for his signature in a few years’ time.
He’s taking a journey by no means well-travelled, but Trevoh Chalobah’s reputation in France is growing by the day, and it’ll be an interesting one to follow as it progresses.