Tis the season of breaking down proverbial roadblocks holding back the Chelsea youth from first-team impact. Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount are already playing big role. Fikayo Tomori is knocking on the door. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (still counts as youth?) are practically guaranteed minutes once they recover from their respective Achilles injuries.
Last but certainly not least, there’s Reece James, fresh off of a most impressive loan season at Wigan Athletic. In his case, Chelsea have cleared out the Davide Zappacosta roadblock and James himself is just a couple weeks away from returning to the fold after ankle surgery. There’s great anticipation for the 19-year-old to showcase his abilities, though the matter of displacing César Azpilicueta as the starting right back is perhaps easier said than done, even with Azpilicueta not performing up to his own very high standards so far this season.
Then again, a solution to accommodate both may already exist, as some have already surmised, and the Captain himself hinted at in an interview this week.
“[James] was already used to the way we play. After he arrived, I was playing as a centre-back so he was training on the right next to me. It was easy for me to get close to him and help him with the movements and to get used to the way we play. The movements that the manager asks us to play.
“I am here to help everybody and he is an amazing kid. He has a very good mentality. No one has any doubts about his talent on the pitch and hopefully, he can be a very important player.”
Azpilicueta played at center back extensively in Conte’s three-man backline — and was world class — and he deputised in the center for Sarri’s more standard back four towards the tail end of last season as well (after Rüdiger went down with a knee injury). Whether in a pair or a trio, the idea of playing Azpi, who’s proven to be a fairly limited attacker on the right flank, in a more defensive role in the center would not be all that shocking.
Azpi will undoubtedly do whatever it takes to help James and all the rest of the kids make the impact we’re all hoping they will make this season and beyond.
“I believe in the young players that we have. A lot of players through the academy have been on loan and we’ll work hard to carry it as far as we can.
”We have the examples of Tammy Abraham, of Reece James, of Mason Mount playing regularly in the Championship [last season]. We have the academy players who reached the final of the UEFA Youth League like Conor [Gallagher]. Charlie Brown was the top scorer. The left-back [Ian Maatsen] won the European U17 Championship, so we have very good players coming from the bottom.
But they need time as well. It’s difficult to go straight [into the first team] but the loan team, the academy, they are doing an amazing job. We’re very happy to have Ethan [Ampadu], Callum [Hudson-Odoi], Andreas [Christensen] and Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] and they have been doing a very good job.”
“[Chelsea] is a big team and it is difficult to get in the first team, but they are doing a very good job. We are seeing it now and we are sure we will get more and more through the years. We are ready to have a very strong team.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: Goal
So say we all.