Ever since he came into Chelsea’s side Reece James’ talents have been clear. The young defender has brought plenty of skill, physicality and quality deliveries to Stamford Bridge and beyond since he was introduced to the first team by Frank Lampard.
Those skills have been no less prevalent since the 22-year-old made his return from injury, and the former Wigan loanee was a key member of Chelsea’s side that defeated Crystal Palace to earn a place in the FA Cup final. James has been heralded for his qualities going forwards with his talents leading to six goals and seven assists in a disrupted season for the Blues with only Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and Timo Werner recording more goal involvements this term.
Against the Eagles and Real Madrid before them, it is the Cobham product’s defensive talents that stood out, however. Often Chelsea have relied upon Antonio Rudiger on the left of the back three to instigate a physical presence in the backline, and the German international is rarely beaten in one-on-one situations. That role has made Rudiger a crucial component of Thomas Tuchel’s side.
Albeit on the opposite side, James was able to show shades of the same qualities of his teammate. Despite being four inches shorter, the Chelsea ace was undaunted by any physical challenge including up against a domineering Jean-Philippe Mateta. In the first half at Wembley, James guarded the ball from his opponent and soonleft the Frenchman stunned by the force of his protection. Wilfried Zaha had earlier suffered the same fate. If Rudiger is to depart in the summer there have been concerns over whether Chelsea can replicate some of his offering; James has at least shown he can produce the same intent to overwhelm an opponent.
Having guarded against Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr earlier in the week, James made a compelling case that he was very at home in the back three. It’s a position Tuchel utilised him in on occasion during his first months at Stamford Bridge. With options such as Cesar Azpilicueta, Trevoh Chalobah and Andreas Christensen also available for the position, James has indicated he has the speed and physicality to compete with any of them.
The England international still showed his ability on the ball, almost operating as right back at Wembley, as Azpilicueta pushed high up the pitch. Tuchel has been pleased to make use of James’ talents across both positions and provided his view on where James is’ best suited.
“In between there – he can play as a right wing-back for us. He had big games and big impact with goals and assists from this position,” speaking ahead of the match the German coach told Chelsea TV.
“He played in the back three last season against Leicester [City] when we had [to deal with] the speed of Vardy on the far left side, and from Vinicius, and handled things perfectly well. So these are the two positions where I see him and where he has a huge impact. He’s still young, and you see what we missed for so many weeks.”
It is phenomenal to know that Chelsea can rely on James when required in the back three, but his impact going forward cannot be forgotten. It’s his contributions from wing-back that have been missed, alongside those of Ben Chilwell, so often this season. Knowing he can add to Rudiger’s dominance in the backline is certainly a bonus however, even if it is without the German’s antics.