IAs it turns out, Chelsea had no reason to spend the money to bolster their right flank last summer. There was no need to compete with Paris Saint-Germain for the signing of Achraf Hakimi when they already had Reece James, whose scintillating display against Juventus on Tuesday night reminded Chelsea to trust his brilliant academy.
The beauty for the Stamford Bridge faithful was that James was not the only local hero leading the charge against the Italian club. The first goal came from Trevoh Chalobah, a 22-year-old center-back who looked likely to leave at the end of last season, and there was a feeling to Cobham in the move which saw the European Champions go 3 – 0 just before the hour. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who had come to replace injured N’Golo Kanté, danced before feeding Callum Hudson-Odoi and Thomas Tuchel was on the pitch when the ball flew into Juventus’ net, whipping the crowd and hitting the looks like he’s relished his team producing arguably the most complete performance of his 10-month tenure.
For the manager, it was an evening that showed “what makes teams special”. The German spoke about the mix of his squad, reveling in the mix of ‘overseas superstars’ and academy graduates, and again demonstrated that he is fully invested in Chelsea’s future. Unlike many of his predecessors, Tuchel realized that the academy is capable of making the first team stronger and he devoted time to improving Chelsea’s talented young lineup, as evidenced by the speed with which James has become one of the best players in the world. in his post.
It wasn’t that long ago that there were some doubts about what the ceiling was for James. There was sometimes naivety in the 21-year-old’s defense and it wasn’t always clear how refined he was with the ball. He didn’t seem as gifted as Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, who looked certain to become England’s first choice right-back two years ago, and James’ form had collapsed by the time time of Frank Lampard at Chelsea ended last January.
James needed to produce more and Tuchel didn’t seem fully convinced at first, even after seeing the youngster produce a flawless performance when Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Champions League final last season. The win over City was followed by Chelsea looking to buy a right-side player and they almost signed Hakimi from Internazionale, only for the thrilling Moroccan full-back to join PSG.
Free to win a starting place at the back, James seized his chance. He dominated the right flank and was sensational against Juventus, whether it was coming back to subdue dangerous Federico Chiesa, going wild to burst into crossover positions or drifting inside to join Jorginho and Kanté in midfield.
The highlight, of course, was the venomous shot that made it 2-0 in the 55th minute. It was James’ fifth goal of the season, making him Chelsea’s top scorer, and a glorious display of his technique and power. Still, the England international’s performance was more than his goal. It was also a tactically refined and highly technical display from James, interesting in how he didn’t get stuck on the sideline, instead confusing Juventus with his ability to move through central areas, and an eye for a pass that even gives Tuchel’s team. more variety and invention in the last third.
The range of delivery was impressive. There was an early free kick that nearly caught Wojciech Szczesny at his near post, highlighting James’ dead ball threat, and he rarely looked flustered with possession. His short passes were polished and his passes incisive long, especially when his diagonal ball allowed Hakim Ziyech to prepare Timo Werner for the fourth goal in added time. He also came close to an ambitious free kick in the first half.
Juventus had been devoured. But they weren’t the first team to suffer at the hands of a player whose versatility, adaptability and technique make him perfectly suited to play for Tuchel. There was a raging display against Arsenal in August, a fine effort in Norwich’s 7-0 defeat and two thrilling explosions against Newcastle last month. “We don’t need to do shooting exercises in training with Reece,” Tuchel said after the win against Newcastle. “He pulls like a horse.
The potency is mind-blowing at times, and the natural ability isn’t too bad either. It’s no wonder that England manager Gareth Southgate believes James can be ‘whatever he wants to be’. He’s a special talent and for Chelsea his performances should be a source of immense pride in the rise of their academy.