Reece James is already playing like Chelsea champions of the past


Under Frank Lampard, Chelsea are title contenders this season, and in Reece James, we see an embodiment of the reasons why.

Let’s take a quick look back at Antonio Conte’s champions from 2016-17. Ruthless figures such as Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic and Caesar Azpilicuetta ruled the roost, each playing over 30 Premier League games.

It was a blend of talent, industry and mental fortitude that ensured the Blues topped the table in May, beating Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, largely from out of nowhere.

Out of nowhere is where they are going to have to emerge from this time too. If Lampard is to edge his side ahead of a relentless Liverpool and a City side riddled with outrageous talent, rediscovering that perfect blend will be essential.

Against Leeds United, James looked like a man who would have slotted seamlessly into that Conte system back in 2017.

Lethal in attack, but also efficient and robust in defence, the youth-graduate has quickly become one of the Premier League’s most thrilling prospects. Also important; he is not taking any shit, and dishing plenty of it out.

A tussle with Patrick Bamford in the opening stages set the tone on Saturday evening. With the Leeds striker already getting the better of the home side’s back four to open the scoring, he decided to have a pop at James.

As the right-back looked to barrel forward, Bamford put his hands on him, dragging him back, trying to disrupt his charge. He was successful, but a swift swivel saw James land the striker on his backside, flinging him like a ragdoll onto the Stamford Bridge turf. Something the returning 2,000 home fans thoroughly enjoyed.

Despite being seven years his junior, it was a situation reminiscent of a Year 11 playing football against a Year 7 at lunchtime during a playground match.

The incident seemingly lit a fuse inside the 20-year-old as well. It is often hard to take a game by the scruff of the neck when playing at right-back but that is exactly what James did.

At times it bordered on bullying, as the England starlet continuously terrorised Ezgjan Alioski, dominating him physically and mentally. He even dabbled in some shithousery straight out of the Costa playbook, slyly delaying a throw-in from Jack Harrison in the second half.

It is an attitude and hunger that has been sorely lacking at the Bridge since Conte’s rather sour end at Chelsea. Silverware has been won since, but that consistent hunger throughout the squad needed to win a title had vanished.

James has flicked the switch, mirroring the approach in games seen back in 2017 and even before in Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho sides. Now it is time for others to follow suit.

There has been a lot of talk about the quality of English right-backs in the Premier League this season. In Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Tariq Lamptey and James, Gareth Southgate surely has the best choice of any international manager at this moment in time.

But for now, it does not matter. The Chelsea man is topping that list at the moment, and although he will undoubtedly have an eye on a spot in England’s Euro’s squad, he has the look of a man eager to drag his club to Premier League glory.

Everything else can wait.

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