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Reece James’s penalty helps Chelsea win shootout with Aston Villa

·4-min read

The finishing was nothing like the standard of Jimmy Greaves, paid dutiful and deserved respect when hailed ahead of kick-off as the finest Chelsea striker of all. Sometimes, though, mistakes and gaffes make for great entertainment. Especially so in the low-stakes early rounds of a competition managers use to experiment with the outer limits of their squads.

And the penalty shootout followed a similar pattern, with Ben Chilwell repeating the feat of England left-back predecessor Ashley Young in whacking his spot-kick off the crossbar. Reece James walloped home the decisive kick after Chilwell’s miss briefly delayed the home fans’ celebrations – Marvelous Nakamba had also missed – and Chelsea will face Southampton in the next round.

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In defeat it was still a night to remember for 19-year-old Cameron Archer, whose glorious header for Villa’s equaliser would grace the Greaves scrapbook, despite missing two far easier chances. Archer scored a hat-trick in the previous round against Barrow and the quality of his goal suggested a young man unafraid to miss, a key part of a striker’s make-up.

Can the same be said for Timo Werner? The German speedster is popular with fans at Stamford Bridge but embraces anti-hero status for the quality of his finishing.

His speed of thought and movement causes trouble for opponents and he put paid to an 11-game Chelsea drought with his own header for the opener, nowhere near as spectacular as Archer’s but good enough to beat Villa’s keeper, Jed Steer, from James’s chipped cross. Unfortunately that was swiftly followed by a far easier chance, laid on a plate by Hakim Ziyech and yet stabbed wide when the angle had opened up.

Thomas Tuchel was happy enough with a forward now playing distinctly second fiddle to Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian thrown on in the latter stages to snatch a win, and whose main normal-time contribution was to claim a penalty for what was actually a fine tackle from Kortney Hause. Lukaku converted Chelsea’s first kick of the shootout coolly while Werner, rather pointedly, was not offered one of the first five kicks.

“We have brought him into a situation where he can score and this is what we want,” said Tuchel of Werner. “Then it’s on him to score and finish it. That’s why he’s here.”

Not that the two strikers were alone in missing the target. Mason Mount, whose half-time arrival energised a previously lethargic Chelsea, also poked wide a decent opportunity in Werner-esque fashion. And for Villa, Jadon Philogene-Bidace, two months younger than Archer, dragged a shot straight at Kepa Arrizabalaga during the spell when the equaliser had previously confident Chelsea rocking on their heels. When under pressure, Chelsea’s defence often looked callow without organisers like Thiago Silva and César Azpilicueta. Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr were partnered at the centre of a four-man unit struggling for cohesion, and with Chilwell, making his first start since the Champions League final, struggling for confidence and form.

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Archer, played through by Emi Buendía, might have scored in the ninth minute. At the close of the first half he could have had another, only for Kepa to save at his feet before Reece James cleared Anwar El Ghazi’s follow-up off the line. They were the best chances of a first 45 minutes that led Tuchel to reverse the half-time change made at Tottenham on Sunday and swap Mount for an unusually quiet N’Golo Kanté.

Neither Tuchel’s nor Dean Smith’s initial selections suggested high priority for the Carabao Cup, and the game, often powering from end to end in the second half, was all the better for such haphazardness. “It was a nice game to watch,” as Tuchel said. “This is also part of what we do: to have entertainment.” It was a sentiment that Greaves would surely have approved of, even if the same cannot be said for the finishing of Werner et al.

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