Chelsea laid their hands on the UEFA Champions League trophy for the first time since 2012 last night after beating Manchester City 1-0 at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto.
Attacking-midfielder Kai Havertz netted the only goal of the game just three minutes before the half time break to ensure the Blues won their first piece of silverware of the Thomas Tuchel era.
Havertz latched onto Mason Mount’s excellent through ball, knocked it past the outrushing Ederson in the City goal and into the back of the net, securing a fully deserved victory for Tuchel’s charges, who had knocked the likes of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid out of the competition on route to the final.
Although the Blues only won by a one-goal margin, their performance told a different story, as they were dominant from pretty much the first whistle. They restricted a star-studded City side to virtually nothing, with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy cruising his way to another clean sheet.
Assessing his side’s performance, an emotional Tuchel said: “I am not sure I feel very confident right now to talk about single players. The effort was huge, there were some difficult and very dangerous moments with a fantastic attitude to defending.
“We had an early change with Andreas [Christensen] for Thiago Silva which did not make things easier but we were brave, even in moments when it was hard to escape the pressure, we needed to suffer, we were brave in the formation, constantly active and it was a relentless performance.
“Of course, Toni [Rudiger] and NG [N’Golo Kante] were fantastic but it was a solid, solid performance.”
From Mendy between the sticks to Timo Werner up front, Chelsea, to a man, were outstanding. They fought as one unit and never looked overawed by the occasion.
Whilst Havertz will hog the headlines for grabbing the winner, and Kante likewise for his outstanding performance in the centre of midfield, Reece James produced a phenomenal showing at right wing-back. The former Wigan Athletic loanee was superb in pretty much everything he did, not allowing Raheem Sterling any chance to produce what he would have dreamt of the night before.
Sterling got no change what so ever out of James, who won everything that went down City’s left.
His performance was hailed by former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand following the full time whistle, as he described James’ showing as “immense.”
“I have to talk about someone like Reece James, because he’s a product of the youth academy,” Ferdinand told BT Sport.
“We spoke about a lot of players, Mason Mount and [Phil] Foden before – and rightly so – but there have been question marks about him (Reece James), not only in a Chelsea shirt, but in an England shirt, should he be involved or not because there’s a great amount of right-backs in this country.
“He’s performed today on the biggest stage and he was the standout. Immense.”
Ferdinand wasn’t wrong. James was superb. It was, without doubt, one of his best showings in a Chelsea shirt, and it came on the biggest stage of all. As well as that, it also sent a timely reminder to England boss Gareth Southgate that he is determined to nail down the right-back berth for the Three Lions at Euro 2020 this summer.
James is poised to be in direct competition with Atletico Madrid star Kieran Trippier and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, although it is possible that one of those three could be cut from the squad when Southgate names his final 26-man squad this week.
But if Alexander-Arnold’s own verdict on James is anything to go by, Southgate will not be axing the Chelsea youngster, who has recently proven he can also play at right centre-back recently, from his roster, with the Liverpool man having hailed his talents last year.
“I remember him always being good for Chelsea youth teams, remember watching him in the Youth Cup,” Alexander-Arnold told the Evening Standard in 2020.
“Chelsea is probably the hardest team to break into as a local lad and as a young English player. For him to be able to do that is a statement itself.
“He has shown since he came in over the last year or so that he is a good player, solid defensively and good going forward.
“He is an all-round right-back and probably up there with some of the best in the league.
“He is still young and has a lot to learn but as for his talent and potential he is a very good player.
“Competition for places is always exciting. It is always something that helps me, I think helps a lot of players get better.
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“I think right-back is the most populated position for England, there are a lot of really good players going for one position so it is always going to cause headaches for the manager.”
With James having lapped up such praise from Ferdinand, one of the Premier League’s greatest ever defenders, and Alexander-Arnold, who is a direct competitor of his on the international stage, it is clear just how much James is rated.
Now that he has a Champions League winners’ medal in his collection of accolades, he will be hoping to kick-on and star for England this summer.