Former England and Premier League goalkeeper Paul Robinson has questioned Thomas Tuchel ’s decision to play Chelsea defender Reece James at centre-back, labelling the decision as “strange”. It comes following the England international’s return from injury, playing in a back three rather than his usual wing-back role.
Discussing the choice of the manager, Robinson told Football Insider: “It is a strange one because he gives you so much going forward. What he gives you in regards to his delivery, dribbling and range of passing far outweighs what you get from him at centre-half.
“The only rationale I can think of is that Tuchel possibly doesn’t think Azpilicueta is physical enough to be a centre-half in that game. There was going to be an aerial threat from Palace [in the FA Cup semi-final] and maybe Tuchel took that into consideration.
“Moving forward, Chelsea need to get Reece James in more advanced positions on that right-hand side.” Tuchel faces a similar selection dilemma when his side play London rivals Arsenal tonight (Wednesday).
James has often been most effective down the right flank, playing there 19 times in the Premier League this season. His early season form, which also saw him chipping in with goals, was a key part of the Blues’ quick rise to league leaders in the campaign.
A number of injuries have struck him down over the course of the year though, with his most recent one being an aggravation of a previous injury he suffered that kept him out for longer. Due to this, Tuchel has been keen to use him at centre-back in the past few games as it is “less physically demanding”.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference for the Arsenal game, he said: “I think the back three is less demanding physically in comparison to the wing-back position. Given he [Reece James] comes back from a long injury, a muscle injury, with the risk of a re-injury over so many weeks, it is a bit of an advantage to have him in a back three because it is less demanding physically.
“This is the next step: how many games can he play at wing-back if he plays wing-back during a season, and at a level where he is reliable and decisive? It [right centre-back] is less demanding physically in terms of accelerations, long acceleration, and high speed on a back three.
“That helps us have him on the pitch for more minutes. That’s why he plays in there. He can play both positions brilliantly. We only have him once so we need to decide but that’s the reason at the moment. I love him in both positions. I’m not sure (what his best position is).”
It explains his decision both tactically but within his own player management. Given how key the 22-year-old is, there’s an urgency to get him in the team, but there is also balancing the risk of a long-term injury. Heading into the clash with the Gunners, the manager now has a big call to make. Whether he decides to play him at centre-back or wing-back will remain to be seen.