Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell: ‘Carabao Cup final more important for us now than winning Champions League’

Now one of the senior faces in the Chelsea team, the England left-back illustrates how much as changed at Stamford Bridge since their last Wembley final and believes victory over Liverpool on Sunday could be the start of a new era of success

Jamie Braidwood
Saturday 24 February 2024 08:07 GMT
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“I think this is arguably more important,” Ben Chilwell says, as the Chelsea defender considers the significance of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Liverpool when compared to one of the club’s greatest nights: winning the Champions League in Porto. Chilwell is one of the survivors of that night three years ago, one of only three members of the Chelsea squad along with Reece James and Thiago Silva to have brought a trophy back to Stamford Bridge. If that underlines the scale of the transformation at Chelsea since the club last lifted silverware, with seismic change both on and off the pitch contributing to what has often appeared to be the confused mess of their current plight, it is almost as if Chilwell understands that he is talking about two different clubs: Chelsea then and Chelsea now.

In 2021, the Champions League was the pinnacle of the old Chelsea, but Chilwell argues that, in 2024, the Carabao Cup could be the launchpad to a new era of success: “If we can get that first trophy as a team it can give us the confidence, drive and hunger to get more,” he says. “The prestige of the Champions League is obviously higher but I’d say this final is arguably more important in terms of where the club is, with the group we have now. It would be massive for the club and arguably would be bigger than the Champions League, not in prestige, but in the direction we want to go.”

Chilwell represents a link to the past, his role now an illustration of how many teammates he has seen come and go since Chelsea’s last visit to Wembley two years ago. When the left-back arrived from Leicester, in the summer of 2020, he was one of the youngest members of an experienced squad. Now, after an unprecedented overhaul in playing staff, his status has “completely flipped”. At 27, Chilwell stands as the third oldest, after the 29-year-old Raheem Sterling and the 39-year-old Thiago Silva. Brought up frequently around Chelsea’s training ground, it is a fact he does not need reminding of: “I’d still love to be one of the kids, messing about,” Chilwell admits. “But I just don’t have the energy.”

Chilwell is set to captain Chelsea at Wembley as the Blues look to win their first domestic cup since 2018 (Chelsea FC/Getty)

Though there is also a serious point to be made. When Chilwell joined Chelsea, he was immediately absorbed in the club’s DNA, immersed in the importance of winning trophies year after year. Now, as the club shifts to a long-term view following record levels of investment in younger players, it is his responsibility to drive that message, a role that takes on even greater significance when Chelsea have struggled for consistency and an identity this season. Lifting the Carabao Cup would give Chelsea a reminder of who they are.

But while Chelsea arrive at Wembley following a resurgent spell of form, the league table shows how far there is to go to justify the £1bn spent on transfers under the ownership of Todd Boehly and co. Mauricio Pochettino’s side sit 25 points behind their opponents, closer to bottom-side Burnley than Jurgen Klopp’s leaders. When, under Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea faced Liverpool twice in Wembley finals as European champions, they lost both on penalties. Chilwell says Chelsea are out for “revenge” after those twin defeats in the Carabao Cup final and the FA Cup final and, more recently, as Liverpool thrashed Chelsea 4-1 at Anfield last month.

Yet the lowest point of Chelsea’s season would come four days later: beaten 4-2 by Wolves and booed off at Stamford Bridge, Chilwell wore the armband and, in the immediate aftermath, suggested the visitors “looked like they wanted it more”. It was a damning assessment but, on the evidence of Chelsea’s performance, a fair one. Chelsea were too easy to play against and were accused of lacking a backbone. With Pochettino under pressure, Chilwell accepted the players had to take accountability.

It started in the dressing room. “We had a conversation as a team – which I thought was very important for us to do,” Chilwell says. “It was about putting things into perspective. We couldn’t let two or three bad results determine the rest of our season.”

The left-back admits that Chelsea’s players needed to look at themselves following their home defeat against Wolves (Getty)

In time, it could be looked back on as a turning point. A FA Cup replay at Villa Park became a “must-win” but Chelsea progressed. They showed resilience and togetherness in coming from behind to win at Selhurst Park and then, impressively, in holding Manchester City to a 1-1 draw at the Etihad. “When your backs are against the wall you have to come out swinging,” Chilwell says, as Chelsea have done in fighting for their manager and their season. With Liverpool hit by injuries ahead of the final and Chelsea following an upward curve, the mood has changed significantly in the weeks since they fell apart at Anfield.

Chelsea have been exposed by false dawns before, but Chilwell credits Pochettino for keeping a steady course. “He is very good in terms of keeping you on a level,” Chilwell says. “Nobody gets ahead of themselves if they have a few good games; likewise, if things aren’t going our way he keeps the spirits high. If things aren’t going well, it’s not all dressing it up and making it look better than what it is.”

Chilwell is one of only three Chelsea players who are still at the club after winning the Champions League in 2021 (Getty Images)

For Chelsea, midtable in the Premier League, not involved in Europe this season, the Carabao Cup can be a fast track to silverware. To reach Wembley, Chelsea have beaten Wimbledon, Brighton, Blackburn, Newcastle on penalties, and Middlesbrough - playing and winning every game at Stamford Bridge, apart from the first leg of the semi-final, which they lost at the Riverside. It is hardly the journey of 2021, when Chelsea knocked out Atletico, Porto and Real Madrid before defeating Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the Champions League final.

But if that was the apex of the old era, the Carabao Cup can be an early marker for the rise of a new team. After all, the first trophy Chelsea won under the ownership of Roman Abramovich and the management of Jose Mourinho was the League Cup, defeating Liverpool in Cardiff in February 2005. And while winning the Champions League in Porto would still stand as the highest moment of Chilwell’s career so far, another cup final victory over Liverpool could in time take on similar importance as the start of something else.

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