Football Features

Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa: James gets better of Grealish to hold down right-back spot

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:40, 4 December 2019

One of the many positive stories of Chelsea this season has been the emergence of Reece James.

The 19-year-old spent last season out on loan at Wigan Athletic and was excellent winning the club’s Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awardS for his performances at both right-back and in midfield — on top of winning their Goal of the Season.

However, Chelsea fans wanting to see James put in the first-team under Frank Lampard were made to wait after he picked up an ankle injury while on international duty with England’s under-20s at the Toulon Tournament.

After two Premier League 2 appearances with the developmental squad, James finally got his first-team moment in Chelsea’s 7-1 win over Grimsby Town in the Carabao Cup. Since then, James has made 14 appearances for the Chelsea first-team spread across the Premier League, Champions League and Carabao Cup.

Wednesday’s 2-1 win against Aston Villa was James’ seventh start of the season and his third in a row, adding to suggestions he may already be Chelsea’s first-choice right-back. Over the past few games, James’ performances seem to have split fans into two groups: those raving over his attacking potential and the others pointing out defensive frailties.

Up against Jack Grealish at Stamford Bridge was the perfect opportunity for James to show what he can do, and it was a fairly decent performance from the 19-year-old.

Things didn’t exactly start well for James as he was penalised twice in the opening 12 minutes for fouls on Grealish, the first a 50-50 shoulder tackle and the other a late challenge. Grealish would have known he was in for a game but will have undoubtedly felt he could get the better of James.

The teenager grew into the game and produced a good stop on Grealish in the middle of the pitch, reminding his compatriot of his quality. But up until then he had been quite quiet going forward. That all changed in the 24th minute.

As Chelsea advanced down the right, the ball fell to James just outside the area. The 19-year-old sent a lovely cross into the box, not too powerful but perfectly weighted to find Tammy Abraham who headed past Tom Heaton to give Chelsea the lead. James continued to get forward well, linking with Willian and N’Golo Kante.

It appeared Grealish had also had enough of dealing with James for the time being, focusing more of his attacks through the middle of the pitch, while also chancing himself against Cesar Azpilicueta on the other flank. And it’s from there that Aston Villa equalised just before half-time.

With Grealish involved in the build up, Ahmed Elmohamady curled a wonderful cross for Trezeguet to bundle in. The Egyptian goalscorer got onto the end of the ball with an unwatched run into the box, beating James who suffered with a momentary lapse in concentration. Although it would be unfair to completely blame the teenager as Andreas Christensen had also fallen asleep while Kurt Zouma was drawn out wide, stretching the back four.

Much like the first half, James was more reserved immediately after the break, allowing Chelsea’s attacking players to threaten the Aston Villa goal, waiting and watching to see what he could get away with.

Feeling confident with Chelsea’s position in the game, James once again started to push forward, sometimes finding himself as the Blues player highest up the pitch. The teenager tested Aston Villa’s defence on numerous occasions with his crossing and was unfortunate not to add to his first-half assist.

But he did not let his defensive duties slip. In 90 minutes James was not dribbled past once and, although he was slightly less involved than against West Ham, the teenager put in an all-round solid performance.

It’s the second time James had frustrated a stat leader in the Premier League. First it was take-on king Wilfried Zaha in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace and now Grealish, who has been fouled more than any other player this season. There is still room for improvement, but the future looks bright for James at Chelsea.

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The rest of tonight’s Premier League action

  • Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men remain unbeaten against ‘Big Six’ opposition this season as they ended Jose Mourinho’s winning start at Spurs with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men .
  • Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa: Tammy Abraham scored and assisted against his former side as the Blues ended their two-game losing run in the league, keeping six points clear of fifth.
  • Southampton 2-1 Norwich City: Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side continue their unbeaten run and have moved out of the relegation zone with Danny Ings scoring for the fourth consecutive game.
  • Wolves 2-0 West Ham: The Hammers were brought back down to earth with a defeat at Molineux as Wolves moved into fifth.
  • Leicester City 1-0 Watford: Jamie Vardy scored in his seventh consecutive game help Leicester move back above Manchester City into second, eight points behind league leaders Liverpool.
  • Liverpool 5-2 Everton: Liverpool have recorded their longest ever run of top-flight league games without defeat to keep clear at the top of the table, going 32 matches without defeat.