“The recommendation is that he does not go,” Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said rather emphatically in the bowels of the Riverside Stadium on Saturday. “There is no doubt about it.
“He is still in individual training and needs one more week of rehabilitation. I think we can provide this much better – it is not the job of the national team.”
The player in question was Reece James, who has this season proved himself one of European football’s finest wing-backs.
The academy graduate had missed Chelsea’s previous three matches due to a muscular issue yet had still been named in the England squad for their forthcoming friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast.
James was absent against Middlesbrough too – the 22-year-old left at Cobham alongside fellow injured stars Andreas Christensen and Callum Hudson-Odoi. So it was clear he was not ready to join up with the Three Lions and, thankfully for Chelsea, his withdrawal is set to be announced today.
That will give James the best part of two weeks to recover and regain his fitness. All being well, Tuchel will be able to call upon the defender for the Premier League clash against Brentford after the international break. Then comes the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid.
Chelsea are favourites to progress beyond the Spanish giants; that the Blues ran over Los Blancos in the last four of last season’s competition is part of the reason why. But what Real proved against Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16 is that they can never be written off, especially in the Champions League.
Tuchel’s side will need to be at its best. James – who was compared to a horse earlier this term by the Blues head coach – is crucial to that. He has proved as much time and time again this term.
There was his two-goal display against Newcastle at St James’ Park. His rampaging performance at home to Juventus in which he again struck. And more recently, his outing against Burnley ended with James having scored the opener and teed up a goal for Kai Havertz.
“He is super young and has all the potential to be a big and important player for Chelsea,” Tuchel stated earlier in the campaign. “He is on his way. I feel him dedicated and hungry for more.
“I am happy when he tries to be the best Reece James in training. If he plays he needs to be the best version of himself in the best position.”