By Richard Wakefield
James Chester Signs for Villa
Who needs a press conference or club announcement? New Aston Villa owner Tony Xia doesn’t have time for such formalities. in the case of James Chester, it was a firm handshake and a quick picture for Twitter and job done. It’s reported that the Welsh international defender has joined Villa from the Baggies on a four-year deal for a fee of around £7m or £8m.
The versatile offers Roberto Di Matteo options at the back and it will be interesting to see if the likes of Jores Okore will now be joining Ciaran Clark and Joleon Lescott (once he’s found a club) out of Villa.
Below we look at what James Chester could bring to Villa and his overall pros and cons
Chester may have had a disappointing start to his football career when as a Manchester United youth product he failed to appear for the senior team, but after a series of lower league loans, he found his feet after a transfer to Hull City in 2010. Three consecutive seasons in the Championship, where he managed to be consistently in contention for Hull’s player of the season, speaks volumes of his effectiveness at this level of football. He also gained promotion with them.
Despite Paul Lambert’s best efforts, a back three was never implemented with any success at Villa Park. However during Chester’s time on Humberside he managed to establish himself as a strong central defender in a back three. This is also backed up by the unmissable strong defensive performances he displayed at Euro 2016 for Wales, where he was one of their most consistent performers.
Being able to play in a back three and a back four makes Chester an appealing proposition as he allows Di Matteo to shake things up when necessary.
James Chester should have masters degree in defending by now; being under the coaching influence of Nigel Pearson, Steve Bruce and Tony Pulis can only be good for a defender. Three of the most sought after bosses when it comes to drilling defensive efficiency into a team, it would be hard to believe that these positive influences haven’t rubbed off on Chester.
The Championship is a seemingly unknown territory for Aston Villa, one thing that the staff and fans a like knew for certain is that the mentality of last year’s relegated teams needed to be turned upside down. A willingness to put the body on the line and every ounce of fight they have on the pitch is a must; Chester encompasses that description.
As previously mentioned, Chester’s exploits in the Euro for Wales shows that he is a team player and is determined to help his team get over the finish line at all costs, a mentality that is certainly needed at Villa. Pairing Chester’s fight with other Villa new boy Tommy Elphick would create a defensive partnership with the passion to make clean sheets a plausible thought again.
Although they should never be taken as concrete evidence for a players skill, statistics are a good general indicator on how a player performs. With Chester being identified as a strong tackler, his 2.5 per game tackle stat speaks volumes about James as current Villa centre back Elphick managed to score 0.9 tackles per game.
With these two players having roughly 1000 minutes in the Premier League last year, they make a good comparison. Delving further into this comparison reveals that Elphick has an interception per game rate of 2.7 whilst Chester scored a respectable, but lower, 1.8 interceptions per game.
However Chester’s interception per game stats are much higher for Wales (3.2) and Hull City in the 2014/15 campaign (2.3). Chester’s tackling stats per game has always stayed around 2.5 regardless of whether he is playing for his club or country over multiple seasons revealing that Chester is a consistent tackler, something Aston Villa have missed in the heart of defence for years.
Along with being competent at his job, James has only missed eight competitive matches due to injury since his senior career began in 2009. With only a hamstring injury in the 2013/14 season and a shoulder injury in the season afterwards, Chester is proven to be a battle hardened player who can withstand the gruelling schedules English football has to offer.
To paraphrase Tony Xia, one of the basic principles is to have championship experience, (which we have covered) with Premier League experience being an added bonus. Well we have a winner as Chester has had three seasons in the English top flight amassing 59 appearances which is more than enough to prove that Chester is ticking the boxes when it come to Tony Xia’s checklist.
James Chester is currently 27-years-old. In football terms, he is coming into his prime and potentially could have his best years at Villa. This perhaps justifies the price tag that many have questioned, but if he helps launch Villa back into the Premier League and stabilises us amongst the English elite, then it will all be worth it.
The only noticeable downside to Chester is his obvious lack of height for a traditional centre half and his slim build. With the Championship being, traditionally, a very physical league and with the calibre and quality of forwards increasing every year, there maybe questions marks about Villa’s centre-back partnership in the height department. Tommy Elphick is also a sub six-footer. However to dispel any fears, both have been in back fours that have been successfully promoted from the division.
Tony Pulis has made it clear to everyone associated with West Bromwich Albion that they’re main objective since he arrived has been to maintain Premier League status. As a relegation avoiding specialist, defensive football has been the prominent way of playing at the Hawthorns, leading to many low scoring affairs. This has made the fans a little restless and less forgiving when it comes to underperforming players.
We wouldn’t even be discussing a potential move for Chester to a lower division, if he was highly-rated at West Brom. With Pulis giving James the cold shoulder and presenting only sporadic appearances at full-back. In his main game at centre-back, Chester came on as a substitute when Albion were 2-0 against Everton, only to then lose 3-2. The fans have tended not to have been too impressed with 12 appearances and had written off Chester as a player they can afford to lose.
While his international confidence is high, Chester may have to rebuild his club confidence due to his Baggies experience. However, it should be pointed out that the Welsh international suffered disappointment from a young age after being cast aside by United at an early age, but he has shown the character to bounce back from adversity and forge a successful career.
James Chester could be a valuable addition to the squad and exactly what Aston Villa need in the middle of defence with Tommy Elphick. With experience in the Championship, Premier League, and international football, and being coached by some of the best defensive coaches in modern English football.
Chester brings not only experience, but team spirit and a strong mentality with him to accompany his defensive talent. The price tag maybe inflated due to this summer’s market, but he has to be considered an upgrade on the likes of Ciaran Clark, Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards.
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