Football News

Reece James makes Chelsea history in the Champions League to enhance England right-back case

By Ben Green

Reece James makes Chelsea history in the Champions League to enhance England right-back case

Published: 22:08, 5 October 2022

Chelsea climbed off the foot of the Group E table in the Champions League on Wednesday night with a resounding 3-0 win over Milan at Stamford Bridge.

It was an emphatic performance from the Blues, who carved open the Italian champions with liquid ease. First-half casualty Wesley Fofana broke the deadlock after some uncertain Milan defending from a corner, before his enforced withdrawal, and that opened the floodgates at the Bridge.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doubled the host’s advantage shortly after the restart, combining with Reece James to bite the hand that once fed him; and it would be the buccaneering full-back who would then help himself to a goal, executing a coup de grace just gone the hour mark.

That strike, an absolute haymaker from a tight angle ensured James etched his name into the Chelsea record books. His exploits against the Scudetto-holders saw him become the youngest Chelsea player to both score and assist a goal in a single Champions League match, ever.

James, of course, has built a reputation for his fast-paced, attacking endeavour, but even by his standards, this is an outrageous feat for a full-back. And it’s come at a pertinent moment, as his England right-back rival Trent Alexander-Arnold produced a memorable display for Liverpool against Rangers on Tuesday night.

The term ‘rival’ may perhaps be a stretch as Gareth Southgate continuously cold-shoulders the Liverpool sensation, but James’ performance in west London has certainly enhanced his own case to move to the top of a competitive food chain that includes Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier.

In fact, James has played the full 90 minutes in each of England’s last four games, including last month’s Nations League contests against European heavyweights Italy and Germany, featuring as a wing-back in Southgate’s preferred back-three system, a similar set-up to Potter at Chelsea.

The formations may look similar but the application and system are diametrically at odds with one another. James has already bagged his second Chelsea goal of the season; he is yet to open his England account.

In a week where Alexander-Arnold reaffirmed his status as one of England’s most potent and prolific No. 2s, James responded with a man-of-the-match performance against Milan. It’s a shame that England have two generational talents in the same position, but Southgate appears to have his favourite. And tonight certainly didn’t change that.

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand got involved in the debate on BT Sport following the match, suggesting that James is now on a par Alexander-Arnold with the ball at his feet.

He said: “The difference with Reece James is he wants the fight. On the ball I think he’s equally as good as Trent Alexander-Arnold, and defensively he’s a lot sharper. He defends a lot better than Trent in one-v-ones.”