Dujon Sterling explains how the encouragement he received from the Chelsea coaches helped him return from a serious injury a better player and why he has enjoyed competing with world-class team-mates in pre-season.

The young defender was part of Thomas Tuchel’s travelling squad for the trip to Ireland and is delighted to be back doing full training in pre-season, having missed a year of football due to a hamstring injury picked up on loan at Wigan Athletic, before returning to action with the Chelsea development squad during the second half of last term.

‘I’ve been back playing since February,’ explained Sterling. ‘It had been a long time without actually playing and even training competitively, so it’s good to be back. I’m really happy.

‘I got about 10 Premier League 2 games under my belt just before last season ended, so that was a good run-out, but obviously not at the level of training and playing with the first team here.’

Despite those development squad appearances, he admits he is still on his way back to full match fitness after such a long absence – that is what pre-season is for, after all.

However, during that long road to recovery following his injury, the 21-year-old wasn’t just waiting until he could kick a ball again, having been encouraged by the coaches at Chelsea to make the most of his time out by working to improve in other areas.

‘I’m still working on getting back to the fitness levels I had before, but I feel like I’m physically stronger than I was before I got injured. More powerful, stronger, quicker, so in that aspect it’s been good, now it’s just about playing games.

‘I’ve been working on those things with the coaches at Chelsea and even in the gym by myself when I’m away from the club. I’ve been putting in the work to get stronger, because I know where I need to be at to be able to compete at first-team level.

‘It was an encouragement to me for the coaches to say “take every moment as a chance to improve yourself” and “don’t dwell on the things you’re not able to do”.’

Of course, there is no better way to develop match fitness than taking on some of the best players around on the pitch, which is exactly what Sterling was doing when the Chelsea squad split into two teams for a training game in Ireland on Thursday.

For much of that 1-1 draw in Dublin, Sterling found himself directly facing off against Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech, as well as linking up with his old Academy team-mate Callum Hudson-Odoi on the wing for their goal, and says it was exactly the kind of challenge he needed.

‘When you come up against top players, world-class players, Champions League winners, that’s how you want to be tested, to have the chance to compete at that level. I thought I did well, especially against Christian! Personally, it was just good to get the run out and keep building up fitness.

‘It was good playing with Callum, I gave him a little assist as well. It was good especially because we played with each other a lot coming up through the age groups so we know each other’s games really well and the timing of when to run, when to play it, so the movement is just natural to us now.’

Sterling also feels he is benefitting a lot from training under Tuchel over the last couple of weeks, as well as enjoying the brand of football the German encourages his team to play.

‘I’ve learned a lot, especially about how the gaffer works and what his footballing philosophies are. It’s good to get that into my brain and try to implement it into my game as well. Obviously it’s something new for me that I’ve never experienced before, because every manager is different. I think the way that he plays suits me a lot and I like his style of play.’