Rafael Leao shows signs of being a superstar, but Reece James stands out as Chelsea defeats AC Milan.

In London Rafael Leao bounces, swerves to the left then to the right, making empty bursts. He is aware that he will activate the boosters eventually. There aren’t many guys on the field who are coming close to him when he does. possibly just one.

Leao was a precocious novice two years ago, enthralled by the idea of competing against the actual Zlatan Ibrahimovic rather than the video game version of the superstar he had been admiring on his PlayStation. Tonight, he exuded a rousing arrogance that he may have inherited from the great man.

Reece James, his rival for the majority of this game, is not someone who frequently finishes second in duels. The Portuguese forward still had a variety of tools at his disposal to test the defense, including height to win aerials, speed to get around him on the flank, and quick feet to dribble through. Of course, James was rarely defeated easy, and he would always come out on top.

Prior to that, James and his Chelsea teammates faced some serious challenges. Leao appeared to bounce off Mason Mount as he attempted to win a fity-fifty ball in midfield. The youthful athlete appeared to be playing in fast forward during those early exchanges while the other 21 players were mired in a slow-motion replay.

The traveling Curva Sud trembled in anticipation each time the ball came near Leao. He also did. He was aware that this was his team. The problem is that Chelsea swiftly realized this as well, and their elegantly easy answer. Keep the ball away from Milan’s amulet, and there wouldn’t be much to worry about. They were helped in this by Rade Krunic and Sergino Dest’s lack of any attacking vigor throughout the field, as well as Charles De Ketelaere’s sloppy passing at No. 10.

Even with Leao in her sights, Chelsea was unable to completely stop him. On the cusp of halftime, he discovered a seam to drive into, and in a split second, he went through the opening between Trevoh Chalobah and James. The No. 17 was surrounded by the whole Chelsea defense, but the ball wiggled to De Ketelaere. Krunic missed the chance of the night after lifting the ball over a nearly empty net, even if he might have done better than punt directly at Kepa Arrizabalaga.

On a different day, Leao may have changed the outcome in his favor. In a few more years, he might just need one or two runs to completely destroy a defense. This time, however, James seemed to be energized by the simple fact that the Portuguese and his teammates were so determined to challenge the Chelsea right as he dominated this game. If Milan attacked him, he would strike back more forcefully. He wasn’t persuaded to turn around by the dangerman he was leaving in his rear-view mirror. Before the second half, he did so with deadly effect by forcing a struggling Fode Ballo Toure to concede a number of free kicks.

Even with the proper support, the visiting left back would have had trouble, but none was provided. His opponent tonight was standing just inside his own half when a cross from the left came out to Chelsea’s wing-back, doing what superstar strikers do: waiting for the ball to come back to his team. James, on the other hand, had time to choose his position and send a cross into the space between Milan’s center backs. The ball almost appeared to catch Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang off guard as it rebounded off of him and into the goal.

Leao’s absence from the defensive end, which allowed Milan’s most lethal attacker to remain up high, must have been intentional, one would have to believe. He never looked back even after the second. If so, Stefano Pioli made a serious mistake. When Sterling received the ball on the edge of the box, James was once again not in a position to strike anyone. A roaring attempt met a straightforward through ball. Ciprian Tatarusanu would have been removing that from the net as well if he had a glove on it.

Here was a reminder that the other choices are not scrubs either, after weeks of discussion that seemed to never end over Trent Alexander-merits Arnold’s as an England player. In fact, James might have a case for being ranked right up there with his Liverpool counterpart at the top of the world rankings. He has most likely been the finest during the past year.

With the top USMNT candidate, the contrast could not have been more pronounced. In Qatar next month, Gareth Southgate might do worse than to select Mount and Ben Chilwell and have them repeat the rigorous interrogation of Dest that they did tonight.

James, on the other hand, appears as a first name for both club and nation on his teamsheet. No surprise given that he can easily pass tests as challenging as those given by Leao.