Fresh from committing his long-term future to his boyhood club and back fit ahead of our trip to Leicester today, Reece James has been discussing how his deadly deliveries have been honed and which opponent has caused him the most problems so far this season...
There are various facets of Reece James’s all-round game that have caught the eye of Chelsea fans in his debut season at Stamford Bridge. His maturity to come into the team in high-pressure situations, despite only turning 20 in December. A physical presence that combines strength, acceleration and endurance to rampage up and down the right flank relentlessly for 90 minutes. A defensive solidity that has seen him come out on top in one-on-one duels with some of the most dangerous opponents in the Premier League.
However, it is perhaps his technical proficiency that has proved the most eye-catching attribute in the first 19 appearances of his senior Chelsea career.
The Academy graduate has been involved in a handful of goals already this term, scoring on his debut in the League Cup against Grimsby Town and then again at the end of our thrilling 4-4 Champions League draw with Ajax.
More recently, he provided the assist for Tammy Abraham’s goal in our last Premier League victory against Burnley and it is the Londoner’s attacking output that has earned him particular praise.
‘He’s done really well on his first steps into the team because he brings a real quality in his delivery and in his forward play,’ Frank Lampard said recently of the young defender. However, his crossing quality has taken plenty of perfecting over the years, ever since he settled in the right-back position in his mid-teens.
‘I probably started working on it when I was 14 or 15, when I just started to move to right-back,’ James revealed. ‘At the time, I wasn’t really happy that I moved there but as I got a bit older I started to understand it more.
‘If you put the ball in the right area then there’s a chance that people make mistakes and it goes in as an own-goal. I wouldn’t say I practise it every day because obviously there’s days before games where we do different stuff but still a few times a week I work on my crossing.’
That dedication to honing his craft is clearly paying off, as is his tactical improvement after regular involvement in training and matches.
‘If you haven’t played too many games in the team then you’re not really going to have the right understanding of what to do and when to do it,’ he added. ‘The more you play, the easier and more fluent it becomes.’
James will be directly up against his England Under-21 team-mates Harvey Barnes and Demarai Gray this afternoon at the King Power Stadium, though it is another wideman developed in the English academy system who our number 24 rates as his toughest opponent this season so far.
‘Wilfried Zaha - he’s got loads of skills and he’s very fast. He’s quite slight but I didn’t realise how strong he was until I was up side by side with him.
‘There are different team brackets and every team has three or four players that you think "wow, why are you not playing at a bigger club?" There are so many great players in the league.’
On his increasing involvement in the Chelsea starting team, James admits that even he has been surprised at his progress since recovering from a summer ankle injury, and claimed he is determined to repay the faith shown in him by Lampard
‘It started off very slowly,’ he said. ‘I was injured coming off the back-end of last season and as I started to pick up and play games, everything has happened so fast. It took me by surprise - I knew I was going to be in and around it but I didn’t think I’d be this involved.
‘Frank is a club legend and to this day everyone still looks up to him. He’s got a lot of advice to give to all of us because he played at the highest level so you have to listen to him. He’s had a big impact ever since I got back fit. He’s told me what I’m doing well and where he still thinks I can get better.
‘I’m thankful that everyone believes in me here. I just want to play, give it my all and repay everyone.’
The full-back has missed our past two matches after coming off in the second half of our defeat at Newcastle a fortnight ago but he’s been back in training in the build-up to our trip to the Midlands and knows how important the third-versus-fourth contest is for the Blues.
‘I’ve trained this week and I’m feeling good so far. I missed the last two games with a little knock to the back of the knee but I’m feeling good and I’m available for Leicester.
‘We’re getting to the key stage of the season now and the games are coming thick and fast. The quality of the teams we’re playing against are the best of the best.
‘If you’re sitting fourth, you have to look up. You can’t really be looking down, you need to go into every game aiming to win.’
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