There was a brief period in the summer when several eyebrows were raised over Chelsea’s surprise pursuit of Achraf Hakimi from Inter Milan.
With the wingback being simultaneously chased by PSG, it was reported the recently crowned European Champions had jumped into the race for the highly-rated Moroccan’s signature with a £56m bid. The news was met with some surprise given the belief Chelsea were mainly looking to prioritise a new centre forward and also a central midfielder.
And on top of a desire for other positions to be strengthened most of the confusion was related to the fact Chelsea already had their own brilliant wingback option in Reece James.
James had performed exceptionally in the Champions League Final against Manchester City after consistently impressing after breaking through under Frank Lampard in 2019.
Chelsea’s half-hearted effort to match PSG’s attempts for Hakimi quickly faded and the 23-year-old decided to join the French giants, adding to their major summer splurge on new singings.
Even after Hakimi had gone there were still reports of Thomas Tuchel desiring a right-sided player in his 3-4-2-1 formation with Wolves Adama Traore being mentioned.
In the end nothing happened and James remained the clear first choice option heading into the new season. Despite two notable setbacks in the early weeks with a straight red card at Anfield and an ankle injury, the English wingback has proved to be an incredible creative force for Tuchel over the past few weeks.
Both James and his English peer Ben Chilwell have become major creative outlets for Chelsea, adding both goals and assists to unlock stubborn defences.
Looking at James underlying numbers make for a highly impressive reading.
The academy graduate’s beautifully carved cross for Kai Havertz to head past Nick Pope on Saturday only bolstered his positive attacking numbers, which puts James alongside some of the Premier League’s most dangerous attackers.
Only Mohamed Salah, Michail Antonio and Jamie Vardy have been directly involved in more Premier League goals this season than James. Breaking down to four goals and three assists in his seven appearances this term via OptaJoe.
Looking at those goal contributions per 90 so far, James betters Salah, Roberto Firmino, Antonio and Paul Pogba – further demonstrating how impactful the 21-year-old is for Chelsea’s overall play.
And the cherry on top of that influential cake via Squawka, is that Reece James has created more chances from inside the box than any other player in the Premier League so far in 2021/22.
It was clear back in the summer that for all of his Hakimi’s clear talent, it was not an essential signing worth investing in given the fact Chelsea already had a similarly aged academy product who is still years off his peak. But what also justifies passing on a player many believe to be one of the best in his position is James’ exceptional skillset and versatile nature to be fielded as a wingback, more natural fullback or a right-sided centre back.
It also continues a positive trend of Chelsea benefiting from outstanding academy talent in key positions which can save the club millions in potential transfer fees to spend elsewhere.
By not splashing a big fee on Hakimi, the Blues then went on later in the same transfer window to break their transfer record to bring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge for £98m. The level James is currently operating at is proving the level of hype that surrounded his growth at Cobham and the early years since breaking into the first team.
Given the output already, plus the high potential the club has in James, it would have been very silly to not give him the platform to further seal his regular spot in the starting eleven. The threat of a new wingback could have forced James into a centre-back role more regularly which he played against Leicester in the Premier League and FA Cup Final last season, which limits the creative strength we are witnessing now.
Marina Granovskaia’s key decision has only helped to further the development of a generational talent which Tuchel is utilising brilliantly at the current moment, and Chelsea will reap the rewards for many years to come.
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Source by Football London