Chelsea’s 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final triumph over Leicester City saw Reece James make his first start since English football’s resumption.
An unused substitution for the Blues’ title-deciding victory over Manchester City in the midweek, and a stoppage-time substitution versus Aston Villa, this was James’ first opportunity of real football in over three months – and it showed.
Chelsea appeared sloppy, and at times laboured in the first half, and having started at right-back James would only last the initial 45 minutes.
It was not as if the young Englishman went missing on his return to regular action, far from it in fact. James had had the most touches of any Chelsea player at half-time, largely in part due to Leicester City’s decision to flood the left flank for almost half of their attacks.
On a handful of occasions, Harvey Barnes found room in behind James, forcing Antonio Rüdiger to come across and cover, sometimes awkwardly and haphazardly.
When on the ball, James was relatively secure, however any element of ball-progression was distinctly lacking. Supported on the right flank by Willian, James failed to get round the Brazilian enough, which contributed to Leicester’s build-up play being focused down that side of the pitch, exploiting the gaps between an advanced Willian and a reserved James.
Consequently, after his substitution – which was overshadowed by Billy Gilmour also being subbed at half-time – his replacement Cesar Azpilicueta played a key role in Chelsea’s winning goal.
Ten minutes after the restart, the sprightly Spaniard looked to utilise his fresh legs, pulling wide and stretching Leicester’s defence, allowing Ross Barkley to coast into the penalty area and finish Willian’s cross.
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