Though 2018/19 was a struggle for James Chester, if managed correctly, he can still have an impact in Aston Villa’s Premier League campaign.
Words by Harry Trend | @HazaTrand
2018/19 was a struggle for James Chester, not just physically but mentally. The Welshman played through a knee injury at the start of 2019 due to a lack of cover at centre-back, (thanks to Steve Bruce) before eventually spending a spell on the side lines for treatment.
After the play-off final victory Chester said:
“I’ve damaged my body indefinitely.
It’s something I’m going to have to manage for the rest of my career.”
A sad turn of events after a scenario which could’ve been so easily avoided.
Luckily Chester’s lay-off coincided with Tyrone Mings, Axel Tuanzebe, Kourtney Hause and even Tommy Elphick proving themselves to be more than able deputies. The first two would now almost certainly ahead of the Welshman in terms of pecking order, even in a fully fit squad.
Because Chester missed the madness that was the end of the 2018/19 season, some fans have forgotten how good he was for us in the Championship, writing him off as a competent Premier League starter.
However, this is something that the Welshman very much is.
Chester missed just one game in the 2016-17 campaign, forming a solid partnership with Nathan Baker. In 2017-18 the 30-year-old didn’t miss a minute on the pitch on his way to being awarded the Supporters Player of the Year. That year Chester primarily played alongside John Terry while helping keep 20 clean sheets. Despite handing the captaincy over to Terry, he didn’t complain, instead acting as one of many captains on the pitch. A theme of his career at the Pride so far.
In the past Chester has thrived playing alongside a more physical centre-back, Terry and Baker complimented him perfectly. This a reason why managers in the past have been reluctant to pair him with the more similar Elphick.
Villa went up last season with the strongest pool of centre-backs they’ve had in years. Currently, it looks like one, if not both of Mings and Tuanzebe could don the claret and blue shirt for 2019-20. Both would be more than suitable partners for Chester at centre-back.
Chester fits the way Dean Smith wants to play, he’s very much a modern centre-back – comfortable with the ball at his feet with an eye for a pass. Last season he averaged an 87% pass accuracy in all competitions. Transitioning play from defence to midfield is very much a key part of Smith’s plan and Chester is a player that can do that.
Many a time the man from Warrington will perform a simple turn that’ll get him out of trouble and possibly start an attack, this is a vital skill which can utilised regardless of division. The same goes for his calmness on the ball.
Chester’s a relatively quick centre-back as well. There’s no way Smith will play a deep defensive line allowing for solid but slow defenders such as Richard Dunne and James Collins. Not only that, but he has the positional maturity to sense danger before it happens. The 30-year-old knows when to step up and intercept. Even at Premier League level you see defenders diving in rashly and leaving space in behind, this is something that former Man United trainee rarely does.
But the overlying question remains – will Chester recover from this knee injury? The defender was omitted from the Wales squad that played Croatia and Hungary earlier this month showing he’s either not fully recovered or more likely just not considered match fit.
Chester has said:
“With the type of injury it is it’ll need monitoring.
Perhaps I won’t train as much as I always have done, to prolong my career.”
With his contract ending at the end of this season, showing his fitness to Smith and the Villa staff will be half the battle. If he can, then Chester still has a role to play for Villa in England’s top tier.