Reece James, Right back: 6
This was Reece James’ fourth complete game of the season. Given the pace, intensity and pressure of this one compared to the others (Grimsby Town and Manchester United in the Carabao Cup, Crystal Palace in the Premier League), his still-developing fitness and experience levels showed as the game went on.
James was Chelsea’s best source of service into the box, making 10 crosses. Seven of those came in the first half, as the run of play and Tammy Abraham’s halftime exit due to injury worked against James’ continued offensive involvement.
But James struggled with Jose Gaya more than anything else, with the Valencia left back (and Chelsea transfer target?) winning most battles with James in the final 30 minutes. James was particularly vulnerable to Gaya and Cesar Soler making sharp cuts inside. As the Valencia stretched the pitch, Gaya or Soler would receive a switch of play, take a touch and then step explosively inside, leaving James to play catch up.
James at least had the benefit of N’Golo Kante and Willian being on his side of the pitch, but his night reaffirms the ongoing issues with the full-backs and the need for a defensive structure that covers the entire pitch in all directions.
Cesar Azpilicueta, Left back: 6.5
Azpilicueta found himself in much the same position he was in early in the season when many people clamored for attention and retweets by slating his performances. Azpilicueta was on the weaker side of the pitch for defence, with Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic ahead of him, while Reece James enjoyed the blanket of N’Golo Kante and Willian. This left Azpilicueta defending many Valencia rushes at full flow, or having to step up as the last man back far too early.
Azpilicueta took a more active role in the press, presumably to cover for the absence of Mason Mount. Azpilicueta would press from the flank, and Mateo Kovacic would have to cover the space Azpilicueta vacated. This was not a recipe for anything good, as Valencia moved the ball quickly enough to break the press and soon learned that isolating Kovacic was an easy way through. By the half hour mark, Azpilicueta reduced his pressing to maintain defensive strength.
It’s another credit to Cesar Azpilicueta that when Frank Lampard wanted more defence late in the the game he shifted Azpilicueta centrally rather than bring on Fikayo Tomori to shut up shop with three full-time centre backs. As things turned out, though, the plan fell through not because of Azpilicueta but partially because of the man who replaced him on the left.
Emerson, Left back (72′): 4
Emerson replaced Jorginho in one of Frank Lampard’s most notable tactical, not-like-for-like substitutions so far this season. But like Jorginho, one of Emerson’s most clear-cut tendencies contributed to Chelsea conceding a goal.
Look. Daniel Wass’s goal was absolutely one in a million. It wasn’t even a shot – it was a cross gone wondrously awry, much like Davide Zappacosta’s in this same tournament several years ago from the same side of the pitch.
When the pass came out to Wass, Emerson did what the paciest left back Chelsea have ever seen tends to do: he quite placidly stood off Wass. He did not make any move to close Wass down to prevent a pass, a dribble, a shot or a one in a million cross that somehow found its way into the back of the net.
Once that pass left Wass’ foot, the ball was under the control of the football gods. Had Emerson closed him down, the ball would not have left Wass’ foot or would have done so under much different and, in no way, not even a divine intervention way, unthreatening manner.