This season is proving to be the year of youth for Chelsea. With the campaign barely a month old, Frank Lampard’s promise of integrating the next generation of Blues is becoming a reality.
Returning loanees Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have been brilliant, both scoring twice so far. Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen are settling into their defensive partnership, and with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek soon returning from injury, there are exciting times ahead at Stamford Bridge.
There is one more youth player who is yet to make his bow under Lampard, one who has generated huge anticipation. It was confirmed that 19-year-old Reece James would be apart of Lampard’s setup, after the right-back returned from a successful loan at Wigan Athletic.
James is currently sidelined with an ankle injury, but with his return set for just a few more weeks, he could be ready to play very soon. A year ago, he was unknown by many Chelsea fans, but now they are vying for him to start for the Blues.
I first saw Reece James play in April 2018, in the FA Youth Cup semi-final second leg against Birmingham City. He captained Chelsea to a 4-0 victory at Stamford Bridge, and while Hudson-Odoi deservedly stole the headlines with a wonderful brace, James was absolutely outstanding.
From my seat pitchside in the East Stand Lower, I was in awe of James. He was so commanding and disciplined, with the then 18-year-old playing with the same composure as an experienced 26-year-old defender. He was outstanding that night, and I pointed him out. “Reece James is fantastic,” I said, “He’s one for the future.”
James is one of only two right-backs at Chelsea, after Davide Zappacosta went on loan to Roma. The other one is captain César Azpilicueta, who has been a regular for years. However with James soon returning from injury and in fine form, there are calls for him to replace the Spaniard in the starting eleven.
There’s no denying James’ talent and potential for the future, with so much time ahead of him. He is a fantastic young player, one who I can’t wait to see play, and has definitely earned his place in the first team. But for all of the affection he holds in the fanbase, he shouldn’t be Chelsea’s first-choice right-back. Yet.
Putting Reece James in the Chelsea starting eleven as soon as he fully recovers from injury is like making a child do a speech in front of thousands of people as soon as they say their first word. It’s cruel to do because, although they’ve shown potential, they need time to develop and settle in before they enter the big stage.
James is a wonderful young player, but needs to be eased into life in the first team. We shouldn’t forget that he’s only 19 – younger than first-team regulars Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount – and if he is rushed into the picture then his chance at Chelsea could be tarnished by a risky gamble.
James definitely deserves a chance, but why would he go straight into being a first-choice player? Especially with such an experienced, diligent player like Azpilicueta, it seems pointless to oust the club’s captain and frankly best right-back.
When comparing Azpilicueta and James, many will point to the captain’s mediocre performances so far this season. Azpilicueta didn’t have the best games against Manchester United and Leicester, but he is still a good defender, and though he’s past his prime it doesn’t mean he should never play for Chelsea again.
Those calling for James to replace Azpilicueta are being reactionary, though I agree that James deserves a chance. He will be second-choice this season, but that is absolutely perfect for the Englishman. It means he will get gametime in the League Cup and FA Cup, coming in on rotation from time to time.
It will be fantastic to see James training alongside Azpilicueta, learning from one of the best in the business. But the heir to Azpi’s throne must wait in line before he ascends, making the most of playing alongside him for now. However, when the time comes for Reece James, he will prove himself on the big stage.
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