Earlier in the week, James Chester took home the Aston Villa Supporters’ Player Of The Season.
It did not come as a surprise to many Villa supporters. There were few grumblings and opinions that other players could and should have been up for the award. Alas, Chester took away the honor and it’s time to start appreciating what the Welsh centre-back has done since he has come to Villa.
James Chester was brought into the Aston Villa fold from West Bromwich Albion on 12 August 2016. At the time of his signing, the centre-back core of Villa was absolutely woeful. Everyone remembers the 2015-2016 relegation season that saw the rearguard of Villa filled in by Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards and Jores Okore. To be frank, the those three defenders were just not good enough. They lacked smart decisions on the ball, tactical awareness and acute concentration. Since joining Aston Villa, James Chester has shown to be proficient in all of those areas. Many times since his arrival every Villa supporter has seen Chester make the smart decision over the knee-jerk decision. Chester also seems to have an innate ability to push the ball forward in areas of the defense where other defenders would attempt to punt the ball forward in hopes of retaining possession. There are very rare moments where you see Chester on the pitch and think: “What in the hell is he doing out there?” This is due to the intelligence and mental guile that Villa have lacked at the centre-back position for many of year. There is a certain calmness to his game, as well. While other defenders in the Championship are trying to diagnose incoming attacking threats, Chester uses his composure to keep his head on a swivel and get on with his job.
While Aston Villa gained one of the most iconic leaders in football history when they signed John Terry this past campaign, James Chester is no slouch in that department. It is very often noticeable that communication is key for Chester and not only towards his defensive teammates. While Villa have employed a 4-1-4-1 formation, talking and being vocal can be witnessed all over the pitch. But, even more so with Chester and the likes of Mile Jedinak, Birkir Bjarnason and Glenn Whelan. There are even instances where if the defensive midfielder drops back due to a counter-attack, Chester has a foresight to know exactly how to help the midfielder through giving an outlet to clear the ball, or mark the attacker closer. It is a true testament that Chester is not only a physically fit player, but also a student of the game as well.
Chester and Terry have done a remarkable job at keeping things steady at the back for Aston Villa this season and it cannot be said enough. While other clubs in the Championship struggle to find their top two centre-backs, Villa arguably have the best tandem in the league when both are healthy. Again, that kind of leadership is a little bit extra defensive panache that Villa have lacked in the past.
Think back to the Wolverhampton game this season.
Yep, THAT Wolverhampton game.
Do you remember the Chester goal from the set piece? The one where he gets a toe on the ball to place it in the net, stands up, arms spread with a grin on his face?
The man is one determined footballer. On the defensive side of the ball, Chester does not mind putting in the hard yards that younger centre-backs may struggle with. He still has a bit of pace to his legs and uses his lateral movement in a very clever way. It is not uncommon to see Chester clear balls away with gusto when the opposition tries to employ an ‘over the top’ tactic. There have been a few occasions this season where Chester was caught up the field, but quickly turned on the jets and made it back to his position… and then made a tackle. It is quite a sight to see a player so determined at the back for Aston Villa.
While his defensive prowess has been noteworthy since wearing an Aston Villa kit, he still has an offensive prowess to him on set-pieces and corners. As good as he is defensively, teams must be aware of Chester’s presence near the penalty area. He may not be the tallest player on the pitch, but the accuracy in Chester’s headers on both sides of the ball are something to marvel over time and time again.
All of these things and more beg the question… could James Chester ever gain ‘legend’ status at Aston Villa?
In my opinion, he very well could be the next defensive legend at Aston Villa. While it is a very small group of defenders who gain that accreditation by the Villa faithful, Chester seems to really love playing in claret and blue. It is written all over his face. It seems quite obvious that he wants to be at Villa and he wants to do all he can to make sure Villa stake their rightful place back in the Premier League, no matter the cost.
To be frank, they do not make many defenders like James Chester these days. And Aston Villa supporters should be absolutely ecstatic that he plays for the club and hopefully will for many years to come.