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How Reece James Developed Into One of the Premier League’s Best Full-Backs

The rise of Reece James into the player he is today has been quite remarkable. When he started featuring regularly for Chelsea in the 2019-20 season, he was a raw talent cutting his teeth under the guidance of club legend Frank Lampard, but since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel, James has ascended to another level, and is now rightly considered as one of the best right-backs in the country.

Indeed, this season it is James’ attacking exploits that have left everyone singing his praises. Before the current campaign, the England international had three goals to his name in a Chelsea shirt, but he has already more than doubled that tally with five strikes in 2021-22 so far. It’s been quite incredible to see how both James and left-back Ben Chilwell have emerged as two of Chelsea’s greatest attacking threats, but now Premier League opposition are having to come up with plans to shackle the 21-year-old.

James’ early days in a Chelsea first-team shirt were defined by a kind of brute physicality, with little in the way of technical acumen or finesse. He was a rugged defender, able to outmuscle wingers and charge up the line in an attacking sense, but often the end product was somewhat lacking, as was his productivity in central areas. 

Now, things couldn’t be more different. James has retained his ability to defend well in one-on-one situations, but he has also added an attacking string to his bow, able to provide deadly deliveries into the box as well as getting on the scoresheet himself with some sublime finishes this season. 

The role Tuchel has played in James’ development can’t be underestimated. Lampard deserves credit for introducing many of Chelsea’s talented youngsters to the first-team setup, but it’s clear that they have reached another level of performance since Tuchel’s arrival. Players like Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi have grown in stature under the German, and even Ruben Loftus-Cheek is beginning to realise his potential in west London.

For James, there is no longer that sense that he is a boy amongst men in Premier League matches. There is a newfound tactical discipline to his game, knowing when is the right time to bomb up the right flank in search of scoring opportunities, or when it is more prudent to hang back and provide defensive cover. 

In terms of his technique, he is a lot more reliable on the ball, and his crossing is significantly more measured and precise than it was a couple of seasons ago.

With a Champions League medal to his name following Chelsea’s sensational success in Porto at the end of last season, the next step for James at club level is to get his hands on the Premier League trophy. He’ll have a good chance this season, with Chelsea top of the table at the time of writing and one of the title favourites in the Premier League winner odds from Betfair

On a personal level, he will also be seeking to make the England right-back spot his own in the coming months, with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar looming large on the horizon. It’s an area of the pitch where England are blessed with an abundance of talent, but if James continues on his current trajectory, there’s no reason why he couldn’t establish himself as one of the first names on Gareth Southgate’s teamsheet. 

For now, James’ task is continue producing effervescent displays for Chelsea, to help them become even more favoured in the Premiership predictions. At just 21 years of age, there is still a long and successful career beckoning for this young man.