Now it’s Tuchel’s turn to work with the king of the corridor of uncertainty
If we’re being brutally honest, it’s been a bad month for Reece James.
After giving away a clumsy penalty against Arsenal on Boxing Day, James picked up a hamstring strain, forcing him to watch on as Chelsea drew with Aston Villa, lost to Manchester City and beat Fulham in the league, as well as tonking fourth-tier Morecambe in the FA Cup.
Then, when he did finally get back into contention for a start against Leicester in mid-week, it was nothing short of disastrous.
Harvey Barnes, the Foxes’ man of the moment, gave James an almighty run-around. For Leicester’s second, the young England right-back was caught napping, and he almost slipped up again as Brendan Rodgers’ side pushed for a third.
The reaction was unforgiving; the meme brigade was out in force and pundits piled on.
William Gallas had a go on his Instagram stories, and in the post-match analysis on Sky Sports, Jamie Redknapp was merciless: “The basics of learning how to be a right-back are going to be so important for this man. You have to expect the worst as a defender.”
Admittedly, James’ defending does sometimes leave a little to be desired – a weakness that will fall on Thomas Tuchel to help improve after Chelsea sacked Frank Lampard on Monday.
Yet on Sunday, against Luton in the FA Cup fourth round, the 21-year-old gave us a little reminder of why so much excitement surrounded his emergence last season and why his game is such a joy to behold.
With 16 minutes gone and Chelsea already one to the good, James played a one-two with Hakim Ziyech on the edge of the Hatters’ penalty area to work a bit of space before getting his head up and spotting Tammy Abraham lurking on the penalty spot.
— Chelsea Brasil (@chelsbrasil) January 24, 2021
With minimal back-lift, James then brought his foot down in a perfectly angled, stabbing, twisting motion, wrapping his instep around the yellow Nike size five like Roger Federer getting his racket around a forehand return.
The ball spun up, over the Luton defenders and dropped invitingly into the no man’s land between the backline and the ‘keeper. Abraham got the march on his man, leapt, and was left with a relatively straightforward header to double Chelsea’s lead.
From the first angle, the cross looked a delightful one, but from behind the goal, the technique James employed to get the desired effect on the ball became even clearer.
There may still be a few rough edges to his game that need smoothing out, but James is already one of the finest strikers of a football in the Premier League. This was far from a one-off and there are few things more aesthetically pleasing than watching a player who can stand and deliver, again and again.
As a corner of Chelsea Twitter quite correctly pointed out, it was not the first tie James had assisted Abraham to score in this way – and we mean exactly this way. Just have a look at the video below.
— Lions Of Stamford (@Lionsofstamford) January 24, 2021
While impressive enough in itself, it is far from the only delivery James has in his locker.
He can get crosses up and down with almost impossible spin, he can whip them in with pace and verve, he can ping them across with his laces.
He can cross to feet from near the touchline, he can deliver for the heads of Olivier Giroud or Abraham from wide and deep, and his stamina means he can regularly get to the byline and cut the ball across.
And from any of those positions, James finds that magic, un-defendable space between goalkeeper and centre-halves with remarkable regularity.
Reece James has planted his flag: in the corridor of uncertainty, he is the undisputed king.
Reece James – The Art of Crossing
Reece had 109 total crosses in the EPL this season (86% pass accuracy overall) with only 2 assists.
— Adam (@CFCMethod) August 8, 2020