Chelsea progressed to the FA Cup final on Saturday teatime with a 1-0 win over Manchester City at Wembley thanks to Hakim Ziyech’s fifth goal of the season.
Former Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole hailed the improvements made by right-back Reece James ahead of the Blues’ FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City at Wembley yesterday evening.
The Blues, who have now won two of their last three meetings with City, brought an end to Pep Guardiola’s aspirations of completing a famous quadruple at the Etihad Stadium this season thanks to Hakim Ziyech’s second half strike.
The former Ajax star netted his second FA Cup goal in as many appearances just ten minutes into the second half, tapping home Timo Werner’s square pass.
That was enough to seal a fully deserved victory for the west London outfit, meaning they will now face either Leicester City or Southampton at Wembley in next month’s final.
Assessing his side’s performance in his post-match press conference, Thomas Tuchel, who has overseen victories over Diego Simeone, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and now Guardiola since landing the Chelsea job towards the end of January, said: “Our target was to close the gap for 90 minutes because it’s possible in football if you arrive with good momentum.
“I am very, very happy and proud with the performance of our team because we played with a lot of courage, we were very self-confident and were brave with and against the ball.
“We had a very good start to the match, the first 35 minutes of the first half, and the first half of the second half. We deserved the win which was most important. We were very active and did not passive.”
Although it will be Werner and Ziyech that lap up most of the plaudits for combining to secure the winning goal, it was a fabulous team performance from the Blues, who calmly dealt with City’s attacking contingent.
From Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger marshalling the three-man defence, to Ben Chilwell and James keeping things tidy in the wing-back roles, it was a hugely encouraging performance.
James was as solid as a rock defensively and most certainly was not afraid to bomb forward from right-wing back.
And his performance matched the praise that had been sent in his direction ahead of kick-off when former Blues ace Cole waxed lyrical about his recent improvements to read and understand the game.
“When he first came into the team, he burst onto the scene,” Cole told BBC Sport. “He had a great loan experience at Wigan and was putting in performances every week out there and everyone was dying for him to come in and play for Chelsea.
“It was difficult; you had [Cesar] Azpilicueta, the captain, in front of you which makes it difficult. I think he’s come on leaps and bounds, defensively he’s got stronger, his game understanding and reading of the game has improved as well.”
In the first few weeks of Tuchel’s tenure, James was regularly battling it out with fellow Blues youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi for the right wing-back berth.
More recently, however, the former Wigan Athletic loanee has been the German’s No.1 choice when it has come to nailing down that role. He has started four of the last five matches in all competitions and has been key in the Blues’ excellent run of form since the end of January.
In total, James has racked up 36 appearances for Chelsea this season, scoring one goal and claiming five assists.