It’s been a long two months but Reece James is finally back in first team training.
After suffering a hamstring injury against Brighton with setbacks along the way, the 22-year-old wing-back is in contention to start a Chelsea match once again.
There’s no doubt, alongside Ben Chilwell, that the Blues have missed the quality he brings both in his physicality down the right flank and the quality of his end product.
The 48-year-old coach said: “A very, very good question. Even if I wanted to, I’m not sure I could answer it right now. He looked brilliant in the last two training sessions, let’s wait another session and let’s see if I’m crazy enough to put him on the pitch or if the reasonable side of me wins in the end and we go step by step.
“It would be a huge step but honestly today, he looked so strong, so confident, and so involved in training that I am tempted to do it. Let’s see. We have a bit of time and the most important thing is he’s back and he feels confident that he can step up a level like he did yesterday and today.
“There are still two days to go and then we will take the decision.”
It didn’t take long for many to suggest that James could start, with the Blues’ vulnerabilities on the left highlighted.
Marcos Alonso, Malang Sarr and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all started on the left flank as Tuchel has switched between his favoured 3-4-3 and a back four in an attempt to elevate Chelsea’s form. That the latter started in the Club World Cup final felt telling in many ways but he has missed the Blues’ two games since as a result of Achilles pain.
But, if James’ selection is still in the realm of ‘crazy’ Tuchel should be cautious, even with the added dilemma of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.
Chelsea have already lifted two trophies without James featuring in the final, with the Cobham product injured for the win over Palmeiras and left on the bench for the win over Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup.
The Blues have also performed well without James against Liverpool. The young defender was of course sent off in the first half of the clash against the Reds in August but Chelsea showed a stalwart defence without their star to come away with a draw.
In January, the Blues also earned a draw against Liverpool in the first game following James’ injury. Tuchel’s wing-backs were certainly tested as both Salah and Mane scored for Jurgen Klopp’s side but were not overawed.
Of course, if James is truly fit and can compete at the highest intensity, he should start. He’s that good. Tuchel won’t take an unnecessary risk.
However, if he is fit enough, it should be to play on his natural side. Ironically, in the match he was injured against the Seagulls, it was theorised that James was playing left wing-back in preparation for taking on the same role against Liverpool in the next game.
Though a short-lived performance, Tariq Lamptey caused James plenty of problems as he attempted to adjust to the opposite side of the pitch. There will be no time to adjust against Salah on that wing.
If he proves to Tuchel that he is able, hopefully it’s to see James at the best of his ability and being able to play to all of his strengths to attack Liverpool, and not overthought pragmatism.