You could be forgiven for missing Mason Mount’s celebration of his second goal against Aston Villa. The quality of the strike made it a step-back moment to process the dip and pace. Emiliano Martinez didn’t even have time to do that. Despite netting his first two goals of the season and sealing victory in a game where Chelsea suffered, Mount’s mind went to a teammate that wasn’t there. The Cobham product raised two fingers on one hand and four on the other to signal Reece James’ squad number.
James was confirmed to be out for eight weeks by Chelsea and, as such, appears more likely to miss the World Cup than not. It was clear the Blues had missed their star wing-back as Graham Potter rotated through three different options in his position against Aston Villa Mount did not understate the role James has played this season, though his two strikes helped Chelsea take the first steps in coping without him.
“Yes, you know what Reecey brings,” said Mount, “He has been absolutely brilliant this season. He stepped up and has been one of the best players in the team. To see that happen to him, as a very close friend of mine, is gutting to see. I was absolutely gutted for him.
“It is a big loss, but we have to step up as players. You can see what Azpilicueta came on and did today as a captain, he steps up and has a massive performance off the bench, and that’s what we need from all the players. We are such a strong team, and we need to step up during these tough periods when we know injuries will happen because of the amount of games that we are playing. As I said, that’s when the squad comes into it. We’re all together. That’s what the gaffer talks about because we are going to need everyone.”
England have seen Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips suffer with injury issues in addition to Reece James, and with barely a month to go until the tournament, it must be impossible for teammates to consider how their position could be impacted over the next eight games. Mount has proved durable in his time as a Chelsea star and started every game under Potter. The 23-year-old won’t even let his mind stray towards the prospect of injury. He said:
“Yes, as a player, you can never think of that because once that is in your mind, then things can happen. I try not to ever think about not going 100 per cent because I might get injured. I go into every tackle and game 100 per cent, but these things happen in football. Look, when you have got a massive World Cup coming up, you don’t want it to happen, but you’ve got to stay focused in every game you play.
“It is massively important for us to win games in the Premier League at this stage, and you’ve got to try to stay fit. It is difficult and tough. We’re grinding out these games, and hopefully, when the World Cup comes around, you will be as close to 100 per cent as you can be.”
Chelsea have rebounded this season and won five games in a row, and been unbeaten in six matches under Potter. The west London side find themselves primed to progress in the Champions League and sat fourth in the Premier League with a game in hand of the teams above them. Mount, in particular, has found his groove under his new head coach and recorded five goal contributions in his last three games after a sluggish start. He never lost faith in his ability to produce.
“You never want to go at the start of the season without scoring for that long,” he said. “But it happened to me last season, so I know how to deal with it. I am mentally strong, so I stuck at it, and in my head, I knew they were going to come. Last season, I scored three after I scored my first goal getting two others in the game. Today, I scored two, so it doesn’t bother me too much, even though I don’t want it to happen.
“As a team, it is what it is, and we have been winning. We have been performing well. Today, it wasn’t our best performance, and we know we can do better, but we got the win and stuck it out. The gaffer says it a lot that we’ve got to ‘suffer’ in games sometimes. We did that today. I am pleased, and we are over the moon with the win.”
Suffer, Chelsea did as Aston Villa time and again tested the Blues’ goal but found Kepa Arrizabalaga in their way. Potter’s side were second best for long stretches but will hope they fulfilled the adage that good teams win even when they play badly. Mount believes the Blues were mature enough to handle that but ultimately will want to exert control on games moving forwards. He said:
“I mean, we know as players in the game that we won’t have the ball all the time, especially in the Premier League or Champions League, which is top opposition. They are going to have the ball and have chances, so you have to suffer through those timesI felt like we did that in the first half. We got through it and into half-time, 1-0 up.
Then we came out for the second half, regrouped, changed a few things and looked at how we could change the game, do better in possession and create chances because we weren’t doing that in the first half. We went 1-0 up through a bit of luck, could have scored a second, but overall, we weren’t happy with that. We want to control games and create more chances, we didn’t manage to do that, but we suffered through that period and came out in the second half ahead.”