t was a goal “straight outta Cobham”. At a time when Chelsea’s future has looked so uncertain, there is no doubt about the axis on which Thomas Tuchel must build his team. It also serves as a reminder that, for all the money Todd Boehly plans to invest, this is a club capable of producing its own marquee talent.
In Reece James and Mason Mount, Chelsea have a double act that can serve them well for years to come. Their link-up for Mount’s fourth-minute strike against Leeds last night was a glimpse of what Tuchel has missed for long periods of the season when James, in particular, was out with injury.
It was trademark charge down the right that saw James pick up the ball before laying off to his Chelsea and England team-mate. Mount did the rest — curling a shot from the edge of the area into the top corner to set up a 3-0 win that puts Champions League qualification within touching distance.
The pair are absolutely crucial to Tuchel’s system, with their combination on the right — interchanging on the inside channel or out wide — Chelsea’s most effective area of creativity. It is no coincidence that Mount has struggled to reach the consistent levels of the past two seasons during James’s lengthy absences.
With Ben Chilwell also ruled out for the majority of the campaign with knee ligament damage, Tuchel has been deprived of his greatest attacking weapons. Chelsea do not play with a regular No10, their midfield area built more on graft, rather than craft.
The reliance is on the wing-backs and the wide forwards — and the relationship between Mount and James is crucial to that. Against Leeds, they were at their destructive best — combining for the first goal and then both having key roles in Christian Pulisic’s second-half strike which doubled Chelsea’s lead.
Mount, who just shaded James as the best performer on the night, also initiated the third and final goal for Romelu Lukaku by winning the ball just inside Leeds’ half. Mount, 23, does not have the elegance or intricate technique of a Phil Foden — and there remain those who are still to be convinced by him at the highest level. But his impact and effectiveness are beyond question.
He is a player who, more often than not, makes the right decisions. His intelligence and the timing of his runs break lines and disrupt defensive shapes. He is the full package, with a combined 29 goals and assists in all competitions this season. Those are the sort of statistics that have made him a mainstay for club and country.
James, meanwhile, has the potential to be the best English footballer of his generation. The question is what position he will settle into, given his array of talents. Tuchel is already considering deploying him as a centre-back to help cope with the loss of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen in the summer.
He could be a fine player in that role — as evidenced by his taming of Vinicius Junior in the Champions League — and a huge asset for England manager Gareth Southgate. But that would rob Chelsea of his sheer threat in wide positions, which has seen him score six goals and provide eight assists, despite his long spells out of action.
Yet, such is his quality on the ball, range of passing, physicality and pace that he could dominate play in more central midfield areas, which both Tuchel and Southgate have experimented with. The possibilities feel endless for him, but his immediate future feels like it has to be at wing-back, as long as Tuchel is so reliant on creativity from those areas.
In Reece James and Mason Mount, Chelsea have a double act that can serve them well for years to come
That area will be where Chelsea look to hurt Liverpool most in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, which will be why the form of James and Mount will provide so much encouragement. Elsewhere Tuchel has difficult decisions to make. Lukaku scored his third goal in two games to round off last night’s victory at Elland Road, with Pulisic also impressing.
But Timo Werner will almost certainly be brought back in, with the German’s pace giving Liverpool discomfort in previous meetings, while Kai Havertz has been the preferred centre-forward in the biggest games. These are good problems for Tuchel to have.