The left-back position is locked down at Stamford Bridge, with the impressively consistent Cesar Azpilicueta having occupied this berth for the last five years. However, Reece James’ performances on loan at Wigan this season could potentially provide the Spaniard with some stiff competition next year. It is James’ first season of senior football, but despite his inexperience, he has regularly caught the eye at the DW Stadium this year, and many Premier League outfits are beginning to sit up and take notice of the talented 19-year old.
— chelsea story book (@CFCstorybook) March 2, 2019
Overall, it’s been a largely forgettable season for Wigan Athletic, but Reece James has been one of the few stand-out performers in the Latics squad. He’s shown terrific versatility under Paul Cook, and while he’s featured predominantly at right-back, he’s also proven adept in a defensive midfield role. After helping the Blues continue their stranglehold on the FA Youth Cup in April 2018, James opted to cut his teeth in the second tier, and it’s proven to be an exceptionally wise decision on his behalf.
James has been praised for his positional sense, but his ability to break up play is arguably his biggest asset. He makes life difficult for the opposition and also has a terrific engine. He centres his game around preventing chances, but he’s also rarely wasteful in possession and has the ability to regularly turn defence into attack. He made 74 clearances in his first 34 games at the club and is likely to feature in the shortlist for the EFL’s Championship player of the year.
Despite playing in a defensive role for the third-lowest-scoring team in the division, he has even managed to get on the score-sheet this campaign, scoring a superb free-kick against Leeds in November’s televised tie.
Reece James (19) in The Championship this season:
– 34 games (33 starts)
– 1 goal ⚽️
– 2 assist 🎯🎯
– 56 key passes
– 915 accurate passes (71%)
– 35 successful dribbles (76%)
– 38 tackles won (56%)
– 74 clearances
– 27 Interceptions
Enjoying a fine season at Wigan. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/XF3WmpRfBE
— ftbltalents (@Ftbltalents) March 3, 2019
Many Chelsea loanees have struggled to adapt to the physical demands of the Championship, but James has acclimatised with relative ease, and a plethora of scouts have flocked to see the teenager during the second half of the campaign. He is one of a number of Blues’ loanees who will hoping to break into the starting XI during the 2019-20 season.
Indeed, he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Callum Hudson-Odoi. The winger has been enjoying some much-needed game-time in the Europa League, helping his side to a 3-0 win over Dynamo Kiev on March 7th. The 18-year old’s strike helped put his side in the driving seat to reach the last eight, pushing Chelsea into place as 11/4 favourites (at the time of writing) for Europa League glory in the football betting odds.
Blues fans will be hoping that Maurizio Sarri opts to give James an opportunity to impress next season. A number of top-flight outfits such as Crystal Palace have expressed an interest in signing the talented defender, with the Eagles having previously benefitted from Ruben Loftus-Cheeks’ lack of opportunities in West London. James could also interest a number of top-end Championship clubs next year, and he won’t be short of potential suitors should he wish to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer.
But Davide Zappacosta failing to adapt to life in the Premier League and Ola Aina signing permanently for Torino could potentially have paved the way for James to break into the first-team squad. He has all the attributes to succeed in the top flight, but the Blues must ensure that he doesn’t become frustrated and disenfranchised by a lack of opportunities at the club and do everything they can to keep this burgeoning young talent on their books.