Reece James names £131m Chelsea target as 'hardest player' to play against amid transfer talks


Reece James has named Chelsea target Rafael Leao as one of the three toughest players he has ever played against. The 22-year-old defender locked horns with the AC Milan star earlier this season when the Blues met the Italian giants in the Champions League group stages. The west Londoners won 3-0 at Stamford Bridge and 2-0 in the reverse fixture at the San Siro.

In each of the clashes, James suppressed the Portugal international and this raised questions as to whether the forward is good enough to join Chelsea amid interest in his services. Speaking on BT Sport in October, Joe Cole cast doubt as to whether Leao ticks the boxes that a player of his asking price should fulfil. The former Chelsea midfielder said:

"Do you know what? For all of his talent and everything tonight, there will be scouts here, and there will be question marks on his attitude. "He went like most of his teammates tonight. He went a bit limp against James. He didn't get his own way. First 20 minutes, he was loving life, chest out, he was running at players.

"Reece James put it on him a bit, and we watched his body language," added Cole, before reminding potential suitors that there is still time for Leao to elevate his game. "If you're going to spend £100million or whatever his price tag will be, you've got to tick all of the boxes. There's still some time left, and he is exciting."

Leao, who is said to have a €150million (£130.5million) release clause in his contract, was heavily linked with a move to Stamford Bridge in the summer but a move failed to materialise. According to Transfersdotcom journalist Carlo Garganese , the Blues are 'in touch' with the Portuguese star over a potential switch to west London and they're said to be one of the frontrunners.

But, as Leao continues to impress at the World Cup in Qatar, Chelsea face growing competition in the race for his signature. He featured off the bench in Portugal's tournament opener against Ghana, marking his display with a well-taken effort to give Fernando Santos' side a two-goal lead. His impressive displays in Qatar have proved why James named him as one of the three toughest players he's ever played against. In the Chelsea defender's Twitter Q&A he put Leao in the same bracket as Vinicius Jr and Sadio Mane. James tweeted:

"[Three] hardest players I've ever played against are all left wingers! Vinicius Jr, Leao and Mane!"

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