Over the last few seasons at Chelsea, we’ve grown accustomed to the consistent and hard working performances of the now club captain, Cesar Azpilicueta. His ability to win almost every 1v1 and dedication and commitment to block shots by putting his body on the line, earned him hero status at Stamford Bridge. He has been one of the fan favourites at Chelsea, and is affectionately known as ‘Dave’, but his performances have been worrying in recent matches, and now there’s a new kid on the block.
His name is Reece James.
On loan at Wigan Athletic in the Championship for the 2018-19 season, Reece James was nothing short of a revelation for the club. Originally brought in as right back cover, within five minutes of his first training session, manager Paul Cook knew he had to play him. Reece James was too good to be benched. And so it proved. He became the first name on the team sheet, firstly at RB, and then in midfield – moved, so that he could have a greater impact on games.
He ended the season as the Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and with the Goal of the Season award at Wigan, whilst also winning a place in the Championship Team of the Season. Most impressive, however, was being made Captain for his final appearance at the club, an achievement that few, if any, on loan 19 year olds have ever done. When he was substituted late in the game, he got a standing ovation from the entire stadium, with some lifelong Wigan fans going as far as to say that Reece James is the club’s most talented player ever. Quite the impression for one season.
What’s his style?
Reece James is primarily a right back and that is his best and favoured position, although he’s shown flexibility to play in midfield for Wigan and at CB in some games for Chelsea’s academy. Whatever position he’s in, he’s a dominant and physically commanding player, making him a nightmare for players to get past. Just watch the video above and you’ll see his strength and power in running with the ball as well as how easily he out-muscles his opponents. All this, in one of the most physically demanding leagues in Europe. James is not to be messed with.
The defensive side of the game is a key aspect of a full back, and it’s something that James has in abundance. His sheer size and physicality help him hugely in this part of the game, while his pace isn’t an issue for recovery, unlike Azpilicueta, who’s been targeted by opponents this season for this very reason. In attack he’s also very good, and his technical ability is superb, with crossing absolutely the best part of his game, again something that is lacking with current Chelsea RB, Azpilicueta. Reece James has everything you need in a modern full back, and if he can take that into the Premier League, we’ll be looking at a future Chelsea legend.
Let’s compare him to Norwich right back Max Aarons, who also had an outstanding season in the Championship last year. Although James played his games in midfield from Christmas onwards, there is still some relevance to comparing the two. Taking into consideration that Norwich finished 2nd in the Championship last season, whilst James’ Wigan were battling relegation, and the stats become more impressive.
James made an average of 2.1 tackles and 2.3 clearances a game compared to 1.6 in both categories for Max Aarons. Those differences could be put down to positions and James being a much more physical player, but the main reason for comparing them is to look at crossing. It’s an area that Chelsea really struggle with down the right hand side, and have done for many years, but Reece James will change that. Over the course of last season he averaged 1.6 crosses a game, even while playing half the season in deep midfield, compared to just 0.2 crosses a game from natural full back Max Aarons. That tells you everything you need to know about James’ crossing ability and what he can bring to the side. James also averaged 1.6 key passes a game, double that of Aarons. However, if you’re still not convinced, have a look at the video below, showcasing some of his attacking contributions from last season. (Stats via WhoScored.com)
Why the hype?
If you’ve got this far through the article and not understood the hype around Reece James, then football isn’t for you. Yes, Chelsea fans love to overhype their youth players, but James isn’t one that’s going to disappoint. Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is so highly rated by fans, was beaten to the Academy POTS award by none other than Reece James in 2017-18. That should tell you the level of talent we have on our hands here, not to mention he’s already had a full season of regular football in the men’s game, which should stand him in good stead for a transition to the Premier League.
As well as James’ clear quality, it’s Azpilicueta’s poor form which has enhanced the reputation of the youngster, with fans begging to see Wigan’s POTS return from injury.
And that’s why. The majority of attacks are threatening Azpilicueta’s side of the pitch, whilst he’s been at fault for more than half of the goals Chelsea have conceded this season, a seriously worrying statistic. With Reece James in the team, there is a belief that we’ll see less goals being shipped from our right hand side. Frank Lampard has mentioned him by name as someone who will come back and have a huge involvement in the season.
But we should be cautious…
Reece James is a player that is rated very highly among the majority of Chelsea fans, and with good reason. He’s already been invited to train with the senior England squad before his injury, which just shows how much of a promising player he is.
But anyone who thinks it’ll be plain sailing needs a reality check. He will make mistakes. He will cost us goals. But that’s all part of his development, and fans have to understand that what we’re dealing with here is a clearly talented player with a fantastic mentality, but, who crucially, is inexperienced at the top level of football.
I’m as excited as anyone to see James play. We’ll have someone who can contribute going forward, and who can develop into being our first choice RB for the next decade.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Trent Alexander-Arnold had issues when he first broke through, and Reece will to. Fans need to understand that as much as an exciting player Reece James is, he’ll need to settle and adapt. But when he does, we could have some player on our hands.
The future of Chelsea’s RB position is in safe hands if James becomes the player we all know he can be.