Reece James is one of the few talented Chelsea players in recent years to live up to expectation..
The feeling of repetition at Stamford Bridge has usually been linked to something negative. Be that the Blues contriving to concede a late equaliser to inferior opposition, missing good chances at a baffling rate or struggling to break down a low block on a cold winter day.
The repetition of Reece James scoring in front of the Matthew Harding Stand, followed by him looking into the camera with a knowing wink, is something supporters will never get bored of..
Wednesday night’s finish against AC Milan, rifling the ball mercilessly beyond a stationary Ciprian Tatarusanu, had all the shades of his goal almost 12 months against Juventus, which prompted the creation of one of the best GIFs in recent memory. The Cobham graduate paused, putting out both arms as if to translate the feeling of inevitability over what he had just done..
This one against Milan had him putting his finger to his ear, running past the flailing limbs of supporters before kissing the badge, embraced by jubilant teammates.
It is widely accepted that at only 22, James is one of the best in his position, with former club target Achraf Hakimi and England teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold, as the most familiar competitors. James’ youth can still be forgotten, given his maturity and conviction in everything he does. James is the youngest Chelsea player ever to both score and assist a goal in the same Champions League game..
Reece is just a fantastic player, and he’s a young player, developing as we go..” Graham Potter said of Wednesday’s star performer. “I’ve enjoyed working with him, he can play any game in the world, he’s tremendous. My job is to help him reach his potential, and his potential is he can be a Chelsea legend.”.
James dominated his flank, even with the threat of growing talent Rafael Leao to help nullify, his influence dwindling as the night wore on is not uncommon for brilliant attackers against James. Five days earlier, Wilfried Zaha was forced to switch flanks in order to get some joy, and Son Heung-min was effectively marked out of the game against Spurs in August. Eventual Champions League winner Vinicius Jnr. could not help but express praise for James’ performance at the Bernabeu back in April.
In no attempt to demean or downplay what James is doing, there was always a hope he could reach this level when he returned to the club following a successful loan at Wigan after excelling in the club’s academy. As Alexander-Arnold was firing Liverpool to a Premier League title in 2019/20, there were simmering hopes under Frank Lampard that Chelsea could produce their counterpart down the flank.
It has only taken three years to reach that summit, reflecting the generational talent the club has at its disposal. Even more, reflecting the importance of that six-year contract, he signed in September. Likely bigger than any of the business done over a hectic summer transfer window..
James is one of the few talents at the club in recent years who has actually lived up to expectations or at least, is offering a high level of value on a consistent basis. Looking at the vast expenditure since 2019 on attacking players, few of whom have rivalled James’ consistency or productivity. That theme of underperformance was a wider and more prevailing trend in the final years of the Roman Abramovich era..
Early positive signs are there under the new ownership that Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubamyang can offer a level of instinct and cutting edge that has been lacking for arguably half a decade since the last Premier League title win. But James offers the most shining antidote to that frustration.
James is exceptional, and the signs are that he is only going to get better, which means more memorable celebrations in front of the Harding Lower..