Heading into Tuesday’s evening’s second leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid, Chelsea right-back Reece James knew his side had a mountain to climb – and produced a performance that almost helped the Blues pull off a remarkable comeback.
The Blues were trailing 3-1 on aggregate after last week’s first leg at Stamford Bridge, with Karim Benzema bagging an impressive hat-trick in west London.
Defensively, Chelsea couldn’t afford to allow Real’s attack to dominate them once again at the Bernabeu and, from the opening exchanges, it became clear that Thomas Tuchel’s men were up for the challenge of keeping Benzema and his strike partner Vinicius Junior quiet.
England international James turned in a sterling effort at the back for his team and was arguably Chelsea’s Man of the Match, even though they ultimately fell to a 5-4 aggregate defeat after extra-time in the Spanish capital.
Keeping the likes of Vinicius and Ferland Mendy on the edges of the game throughout, James shut down two of Real’s most creative players with a sense of ease.
Despite picking up an early yellow card, James still flew into challenges with absolute commitment, registering eight tackles on the night – the most of any Chelsea player.
Benzema, of course, is Real’s most potent goalscoring threat – and James marshaled him incredibly well over the course of the match. At one point, he dove in to flick the ball away from the Frenchman as he was on the verge of scoring, risking both a red card and the concession of a penalty in the process.
His challenge, though, was perfectly timed, keeping Chelsea in with a chance of making the semi-finals as the tie went to extra-time, poised at 4-4.
Benzema eventually broke Chelsea’s stubborn resistance in the first period of extra-time to send Los Blancos through, but his appreciation for James’ outstanding effort was clear to see at the final whistle.
Footage has emerged of Ballon d’Or contender Benzema swapping shirts with the 22-year-old Blues full-back in a show of respect for his performance. You can the moment out for yourself below.
Watch: Karim Benzema swaps shirts with Reece James after Chelsea man’s outstanding showing v Real Madrid
After the match, Benzema asked for a Reece James shirt pic.twitter.com/6jt6mZeuph— The Football Index 🎙 ⚽ (@TheFootballInd) April 13, 2022
James may not be heading to the last four of the Champions League, but he certainly proved his quality against some of the most revered names in European football, as well as picking himself up a pretty high-profile fan.
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Supporters on social media were also greatly impressed by James’ accomplished performance.
“Reece James had an all time performance tonight. Announced himself as one of the best fullbacks in the world,” declared one post on Twitter.
“Benzema asking for Reece James’s shirt after the game shows you how elite players view him. Unbelievably talented,” wrote another.
“Reece James is the best right-back in the world. Locked up Vinicius pretty much the whole game after getting a yellow in the first 20 minutes, and we didn’t even utilize his attacking strengths today, what a back up RWB could do,” said a third fan.
An outstanding performance on a disappointing night for the Chelsea man.
Chelsea crash out of the Champions League (Reaction via The Football Terrace)