Reece James shows class as a centre-back again to open up box of opportunities for Tuchel and Southgate

REECE JAMES proved his quality as a centre-back yet again with a flawless display in Chelsea’s FA Cup semi-final win over Crystal Palace.

The England defender, 22, was brilliant against Real Madrid on Tuesday in an unfamiliar centre-back role.

Reece James showed his quality as a centre-back again as Chelsea beat Crystal PalaceCredit: Alamy

James and Timo Werner linked up effectively in the semi-final

James and Timo Werner linked up effectively in the semi-finalCredit: Getty

He kept Real dangerman Vinicius Jr. quiet for the most part and did the same to Wilfried Zaha at Wembley.

It was an interesting decision from Thomas Tuchel to start James in the heart of defence with Cesar Azpilicueta instead given the right wing-back role.

But when James showed the strength and composure to keep the ball off Jean-Philippe Mateta in a dangerous position, Tuchel likely felt vindicated in his decision.

Patrick Vieira later moved Eberechi Eze to Palace’s left with Zaha operating through the middle – but whatever changes he made James was undeterred.

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Importantly, James’ attacking threat was not nullified in his new found role with plenty of space ahead of him to run into when required.

He exploited that space too, either by carrying the ball forward or playing passes in behind the Palace defence to the pacy Timo Werner.

Twice in the first half James almost found a defence-splitting pass into the German’s path – it twice took last-ditch tackles to put a stop to the danger.

One of James’ biggest strengths is his crossing ability so with more time and space on the ball in this role he should be able to pick out the likes of Werner and Kai Havertz and add more assists to his game.

He can also provide runs on the underlap and perhaps would have been more adventurous against Real and Palace if the two games not been so vital to Chelsea’s season.

But James’ two classy performances in the space of six days – and the magnitude of the two games – suggests he could occupy a centre-back role for Chelsea long-term.

In doing so he would alleviate the pressure currently on the Blues to find one or more world-class centre-backs, having been linked with Jules Kounde and Matthijs de Ligt.

It also softens the blow of Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Azpilicueta potentially leaving in summer.

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Tuchel and Chelsea’s transfer chiefs could even decide to focus on signing a right wing-back instead when the transfer window opens, having been keen on Barcelona star Sergino Dest for some time.

Before that the Blues now have the small task of the FA Cup final to deal with, and James is almost guaranteed to play centrally once again to deal with the danger of Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz.

James’ display also gives Gareth Southgate plenty to think about and the England manager was in attendance at Wembley.

Southgate has previously deployed Kyle Walker in the same right-sided centre-back role, and with success, as the Manchester City star helped the Three Lions reach the 2018 World Cup semi-final.

James is now another option, and it could allow England to fit the Chelsea man in the same team as Trent Alexander-Arnold – a thought that should fill England fans with glee.


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