Frank Lampard is trying to restore Chelsea’s form and league position and has been presented with a crucial boost ahead of the weekend as Reece James battles to return to full fitness.
The England full-back has encountered knee and hamstring problems in recent weeks and has missed Chelsea’s last three matches, but he could be set for selection by the time the Blues face Fulham on Saturday evening having returned to training.
James has proved to be integral to Lampard’s new-look team this season having displaced Cesar Azpilicueta as the team’s first-choice right-back, and his presence was making a notable difference early on, especially when deployed behind Hakim Ziyech.
The academy graduate offers specific tactical perks – primarily in attack – that cannot be matched by Azpilicueta, who has different types of strengths in less offensive areas.
James, simply put, is more mobile, has quality in possession and his delivery is extremely difficult to defend against once he’s permitted to cross into the penalty box.
Despite operating as a full-back, he is capable of playing the last pass for Chelsea in the build up to a goal and that influences the approach of the opposition.
As a consequence of his attacking traits, he tends to attract attention which draws opposing players away from other teammates and if that fails to happen and he’s not closed down, then he usually proceeds by showcasing one of his dangerous crosses.
The 21 year-old is therefore a double-edged sword of sorts and when partnered with Ziyech – who is equally skilful when crossing but prefers his left foot over his right – opponents simply have to allow one of them to cross in many situations, as shown below.
Pep Ljinders – Jurgen Klopp’s right-hand man – once described one of Liverpool’s issues, stating: “Every opponent makes the middle closed for us, so the space is on the sides and the openings must come from there. Trent [Alexander-Arnold] and Andy Robertson literally give us wings.”
Chelsea suffer from a similar issue to Liverpool because of their status as a team in comparison to those competing to stay in England’s top-flight, and like Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, Lampard needs Chilwell and James to pose a threat from out wide.
Azpilicueta, by contrast, is not quite as effective or dangerous on the ball and as a result of that, opposing players are much more inclined to feel safe with him in possession of the ball.
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In comparison to Azpilicueta since the start of Lampard’s tenure in the Premier League last year, James averages more key passes, passes into the box, shots, crosses into the box, switches of play and progressive carries on a per 90 basis.
The 31 year-old has the edge when it comes to progressive passes and passes to the final third but ultimately, James adds much more value when on the ball and it drastically impacts how others behave in and around the business end of the field.
Once he is deemed to be fully fit and available for selection, and he’s able to perform without any underlying issues, expect Chelsea to receive a significant injection of threat high up the field.