Interview

Reece James on duelling with Zaha and bouncing back against Palace

Reece James discusses Thiago Silva's impact, Frank Lampard's faith and going up against Wilfried Zaha ahead of our London derby against Crystal Palace today...

When Chelsea hosted Crystal Palace last season, it was at the end of a November week in which Reece James blew the roof off Stamford Bridge with a stunning equaliser in the Champions League against Ajax.

By the time the final whistle blew on our 2-0 victory over the Eagles, it was the full-back’s defensive discipline up against the tricky Wilfried Zaha that drew the post-match praise, his efforts helping us to just a third clean sheet of the season and a sixth straight Premier League victory.

A similar winning run is the target for Frank Lampard’s Blues now following a mixed start to the 2020/21 league campaign that has garnered a win, a draw and a defeat in the opening three games.

Regardless of the result at Stamford Bridge, there will be no repeat of the joyous scenes in the stands that greeted James’s Ajax leveller and which ought to have met his stunning strike away at Brighton on the opening weekend. Fans remain absent for the foreseeable future and the 20-year-old warns against reading too much into the instantaneous reaction of social media to gauge terrace opinion.

‘When someone makes a mistake, it’s always highlighted on social media,’ he says.

‘If the fans were there live in the flesh at a game, I don’t think they would have the same views but that’s just part and parcel of it.’

Like everyone in the game, James is eager for the return of supporters into stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so but, in the meantime, he and his team-mates must focus on tackling opponents on their own, starting with Zaha and a Palace side who have six points on the board already.

‘He’s a very good player,’ the right-back comments on Palace's tricky winger. ‘You can’t really pinpoint one thing to nullify him from the game because you don’t know what he’s going to do.

‘He can come up with anything so it won’t be a one-man effort, it will be collectively as a team. Everyone needs to work together and as a unit to stop him and to stop Crystal Palace.’

The Blues are seeking a sixth consecutive league victory against the south Londoners for the first time but it will require a strong response after two dropped points at West Brom last time out in the Premier League and a Carabao Cup exit in midweek.

‘It was tough to take,’ James reflects on the 3-3 draw at the Hawthorns. ‘I felt we should have gone there and taken the three points but football doesn’t always go the way you want it to go and we found ourselves 3-0 down at half-time.

‘We did very well to get a point from the game. We always knew we could score goals against them and we could have scored goals in the first half as well so we weren’t doubting ourselves.’

All three goals were scored by Chelsea Academy graduates – Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham – which would have been headline news prior to the emergence of so many homegrown youngsters under Lampard. Now, it is barely a footnote but James still shows immense pride in such achievements.

‘It was great to see all the Academy players breaking through last season and playing this season as well,' he notes. 'Being involved in all of the goals away at West Brom was great for the Academy.

‘It shows how hard we’ve worked and how hard the Academy have worked to get us to a level where we are first team players for such a top-level club in the world.’

Defensive reinforcements have been made this summer in the shape of Thiago Silva, Edouard Mendy and Ben Chilwell, the latter pair who could make their Premier League debuts this lunchtime at the Bridge. The Brazilian, who captained the side at West Brom, has been an important influence on James already.

‘He’s obviously a legend of the game,’ he explains. ‘He’s played for numerous years at the highest level, been captain of Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil, and he’s got so much experience.

‘His English is not the best yet so sometimes it’s a little bit harder to communicate but there’s loads of other players who can speak both languages and he’s helped us all a lot. You can tell he’s a leader by the way he carries himself around the building and in training. He talks and helps everyone with his experience.’

The talk in the Chelsea dressing room in recent days will have centred on bouncing back from disappointing recent setbacks, a response that will be aided by the return to the matchday squad of Christian Pulisic today.

James himself will be hoping to continue his ever-present record in the Premier League this season, having started the opening three games, for which he credits Lampard’s faith and hopes the group can repay with improved performances and results.

‘He’s believed in me from the get-go,’ James says of Lampard. ‘I’ve started all three league games this season and I’m obviously thankful for that. He’s helped me a lot, he’ll continue to help me and we’ll grow as a team.

‘It’s helping with everyone coming back from injury and getting up to full fitness. It’s only going to help us and push players to play and train harder as well so it can only have a positive effect.

‘We’re not here to take part; we all want to win trophies and with the group of lads we have there’s no reason why we can’t do that. We go into every game trying to win and that’s the aim this weekend - to go and get the three points and start a good run.’

MORE FROM CHELSEA