Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson has backed Frank Lampard to offer Reece James his first-team breakthrough at Chelsea, after the teenager scored in his senior debut against Grimsby Town in the Carabao Cup.
James, a product of Chelsea’s academy, played 46 times across all competitions for Wigan Athletic last season as he enjoyed his first taste of senior minutes during a one-season loan spell at the DW Stadium (TransferMarkt).
The London-born prospect made 32 of his Latics appearances in his natural position at right-back, but head coach Paul Cook also dabbled with the idea of deploying James as a defensive midfielder on 13 occasions and once as a central defender.
Cook further saw fit to hand the 19-year-old the captain’s armband against Millwall in what was James’ final appearance for the Championship side, but the youngster has been rarely-seen since returning to West London.
An ankle injury meant the 12-time England under-20 international could not be included in Lampard’s squads to face Manchester United, Leicester City, Norwich or Sheffield United, while under-21 duties meant he was omitted from the 18-man teamsheets against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool.
Lampard made changes for his side’s Carabao Cup clash with Grimsby Town, though, with James handed his senior debut at Stamford Bridge, and Merson expects that to be just the beginning after the right-back was an unused substitute against Brighton & Hove Albion last Saturday.
“In two or three years’ time, this Chelsea team will be dictating the Premier League, mark my words,” Merson stated in his column for Sky Sports. “All of their young players would have played 100-odd games together by then and, if they continue in the same vein, their countries too.
“There’s Reece James, who will be in the first-team sooner rather than later, he’s a proper player. Fikayo Tomori is very good, just look at how he handled Mohamed Salah last week. There’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who is yet to come back, Ross Barkley, who plays for England already, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
“What makes it all the more remarkable is that if Chelsea weren’t under a transfer embargo, most of the young players we’re seeing would probably be on loan, and Chelsea wouldn’t be relishing the bright future that’s in front of them.”
James certainly left an impression from the off in his senior Chelsea debut against Grimsby in the Third Round of the Carabao Cup, as he set up Michy Batshuayi in the seventh minute, created Kurt Zouma’s goal and later struck one of his own for the Blues’ fifth.
Like Lampard stated after the game, Reece proved himself at Wigan, where he won 2.1 of his 2.6 attempted tackles per 90 minutes, along with 2.4 clearances and 1.3 blocks. The youngster also completed 1.1 of his 1.4 dribbles, played 1.7 key balls and was dispossessed just 0.8 times, per WhoScored data.
Maintain that level of consistency and accuracy in the cup competitions, where he will be sure to earn more minutes, and it will not be long before Lampard looks at James for his maiden Premier League outing.
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