Reece James was never going to be ready to play in Wednesday evening’s Club World Cup semi-final against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and the decision for the full back to travel to Abu Dhabi with his clubmates is instead being viewed as an opportunity for him to work on his fitness.
The Chelsea full-back has been out of action since injuring a hamstring in the draw at home to Brighton and Hove Albion in late December.
He is nearing a return but Wednesday’s game is too early and he was not included in the 23-man squad submitted to FIFA on Monday morning, despite travelling with the squad for the week-long trip.
It is expected that James will take a full part in training with the main group and there remains a slight chance that he could appear as a substitute in the final, or third place play-off, on Saturday evening.
Although that is still deemed unlikely, Chelsea can make changes to their 23-man list between games if they wish.
Spending a week in Abu Dhabi is also being viewed as a good team bonding opportunity, even if the squad will remain under strict Covid-19 protocols.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel has remained in London following a positive test before Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round win over Plymouth Argyle.
The players and staff will be subject to routine PCR testing and are unlikely to spend much time outside of their hotel, which is about 20 minutes’ drive from the Mohammed Bin Zayed stadium where their semi-final and the final take place.
As revealed by football.london last month, any player who remains unvaccinated will be subject to extra testing after being given quarantine exemptions by the Abu Dhabi government.
Chelsea squad for Club World Cup: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Antonio Rudiger, Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen, Jorginho, Thiago Silva, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner, Marcus Bettinelli, Trevoh Chalobah, Edouard Mendy, Saul Niguez, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Kenedy, Cesar Azpilicueta, Kai Havertz, Malang Sarr.