Reece James says Chelsea are confident going into our FA Cup tie with Sheffield United and recalled his time playing up front with a current Blades striker in our Academy.
We host Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge in the quarter-finals today, having already defeated them home and away in the Premier League in 2020/21.
Despite the recent departure of their manager Chris Wilder, the Blades are expected to continue with the same 3-5-2 formation which brought them so much success in the previous couple of seasons.
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Although James admits his and the rest of our own wing-backs’ roles can change when facing a side using a similar system, he insists those two earlier victories and our excellent recent form means the Blues go into this game confident in their ability to reach the semi-finals.
‘We played against them already a month ago, so we know how to set up and how to play against them,’ said James. ‘Sometimes it is a bit different when you play against different formations but I think with how hard we work and the qualities we have there’s no doubts going into the game.’
Sheffield United forward Rhian Brewster has featured regularly for the Blades this season, starting for them in the last two rounds of the FA Cup, and he is someone James knows well.
Not only were they team-mates in the same age group of the Chelsea Academy before Brewster moved to Liverpool aged 15 but, surprisingly given the direction James’ career has taken since, they were also strike partners.
‘I know Rhian Brewster well. We still talk, but obviously not as regularly as if he was still in the same changing room,’ explained our wing-back.
‘He was a bit of a different player back then, he was tiny! Now he’s massive, but when he was in the Academy here he was so small, and very fast.
‘When I was that young I was an attacker as well, so I never really played against him, I was playing with him in attack. I don’t remember who scored the most goals, though!’
They are just two examples of the incredible success our Academy has had in producing players who have gone on to make a career in professional football, with James one of the members of that age group now part of the Blues’ men's first-team squad, in addition to several others breaking into the senior game after moving elsewhere in the Premier League or Football League.
However, he doesn’t believe that achievement is down to any secret of success, but just old fashioned hard work by everyone involved.
‘I think it just shows how hard the Academy have worked and the players have worked to get where they are,’ added the 20-year-old. ‘It wouldn’t have been possible obviously without all the hard work of all the staff in the Academy, but also all the hard work from the players as well. So I think it’s down to both parties putting in 100 per cent to get us to where we are today.’