Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has offered a fresh update on the fitness of defender Reece James, ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Brentford at Stamford Bridge.
What’s the word?
Speaking in his pre-match press conference on Friday (via journalist Nizaar Kinsella), the German revealed that the wing-back is “ready to go and in the squad” for this weekend, having been absent since the 4-0 win over Burnley at the start of March due to a muscle injury – forcing him to withdraw from Gareth Southgate’s England squad prior to the recent international break.
That clash at Turf Moor – in which he scored and laid on an assist – had been the 22-year-old’s first, and only, appearance for the club in 2022, with a hamstring issue having kept him on the sidelines since limping off against Brighton at the end of December.
His return will be a timely boost ahead of a hectic April schedule, although Tuchel did confirm that teammate Callum Hudson-Odoi will be unavailable this week due to an Achilles injury and a back complaint, while long-term absentee Ben Chilwell will also miss the visit of the Bees.
While it remains to be seen whether the one-time Wigan loanee will feature from the start on Saturday, particularly with Real Madrid to come in the Champions League quarter-final’s in midweek, the fact he is now available for selection will serve as a huge positive for his manager, with the Blues having lacked an attacking presence on the right-flank in his absence.
Reported Barcelona-target Cesar Azpilicueta has filled in admirably in that role, although simply cannot offer the same quality or pace in the final third as his younger teammate, with James having registered an impressive six goals and five assists in the league thus far.
That record of 11 goal contributions in just 17 league appearances is impressive in itself, although is enhanced even further by the fact that he currently has a better record than his international colleague Phil Foden (ten goal contributions), despite the Manchester City starlet playing in a more advance role and having made four more league appearances (21).
Equally, only Mason Mount (12) has laid on more assists than the £49.5m-rated man (seven) in all competitions for the west London outfit, with the versatile defender – dubbed “phenomenal” by talksSPORT pundit Ally McCoist – developing into a real threat in and around the opposition box.
That importance to his current side is emphasised by his 7.27 WhoScored rating so far this season, the 11th best among all top-flight players and also the highest among the Blues squad.
While he may have to be eased back into action to avoid any risk of another injury setback, his much-anticipated return will no doubt be a significant boost to the club’s hopes of silverware this season, with the academy prospect – who Brazilian legend Dani Alves labelled a “great player” earlier this week – having been sorely missed in recent months.