Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers has vowed to “provide a pathway” for Ben Chilwell to deal with recent negative comments.
Chilwell has been one of the Foxes’ star performers in recent seasons, making the left-back position his own and earning 11 caps for England, leading to speculation regarding a potential move to Manchester United or Chelsea.
But for the first time, in last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Southampton at the King Power Stadium, the 23-year-old was on the receiving end of flak from the fans.
Following a tired-looking performance in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg draw at home to Aston Villa a few days previously, Chilwell followed that up with a wretched display against the Saints, notably as too many passes went astray.
Rodgers recognises the supporters’ response was not something he would have experienced before, and knows he has to step in to protect such a burgeoning talent.
“Ben’s obviously had this meteoric rise through the club, and everything up until last Saturday was really nice, but he understands that it (the fans’ reaction) is not nice,” said Rodgers.
“This is a great group of supporters that, up until four or five years ago, would have been happy with 17th and a point above (the relegation zone).
“Now the expectation has grown, and the performances they want from players and the team has grown, and that’s something that he, as a top talent, has to live with, but he’s strong enough to deal with that.
“He’s a brilliant young player that still, for me, has a lot of improvements to make. He’s a wonderful athlete, he has great power and running ability.
“But there’s a number of areas he can improve on, and that’s our job, to help him play with confidence.
“He’s probably never experienced that before until last week, so you need to support him and provide a pathway for him going forwards.”
When it was suggested to Rodgers that a degree of tiredness had crept into Chilwell’s game given he is the only player to have started all four matches since the turn of the year, he replied: “It could be something I have to look at.
“We’ll get through the end of this month with five games to play, and then hopefully the players will have a good rest (with the mini winter break in early February).
“He’s clearly a very important player for us. He hasn’t played in some of the (Carabao) cup games, we’ve given him a breather with some of those.
“It’s also part of his development, from a mental perspective, having that robustness, being able to go week in, week out.
“But at times, we’ll have to look at the energy in the team, and if we think we have to bring him out, we will do.”
Following a week’s break, City’s first since early December, it is almost certain Chilwell will start Sunday’s Premier League clash at Burnley.
Defender Wes Morgan is a doubt for the game at Turf Moor with a groin injury, while midfielder Wilfred Ndidi is sidelined following a recent minor knee operation.