Chelsea have penciled in the start of their FIFA Club World Cup campaign next month as a possible return date for Reece James, who has made significant progress in his recovery.
The 22-year-old right-back was forced off with a hamstring injury in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Brighton on December 29, and has since missed the team’s last seven games in all competitions.
The news came after first-choice left-back Ben Chilwell was ruled out for the rest of the season due to an ACL tear, and the Blues have struggled without them, with Thomas Tuchel’s side now ten points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.
According to The Athletic, James started doing individual drills at Cobham this week for the first time and plans to return to full training within the next two weeks.
According to the report, James will be unavailable for Chelsea’s FA Cup fourth-round match against Plymouth on February 5. He is, however, a’strong possibility’ of traveling to Abu Dhabi for the FIFA Club World Cup the following week.
Chelsea will play one of Al Hilal SFC, Al Jazira, or Auckland City on February 9 before potentially facing Palmeiras, Ah Ahly, or Monterrey in the 2018 Champions League final three days later.
The full-back is expected to be fully fit for the Champions League knockout stage, which begins on February 22 when the west London giants host Lille at Stamford Bridge.
Prior to his injury, James had four goals and five assists in the English Premier League and was arguably Chelsea’s best player.
Tuchel wanted to bring in a full-back before the January transfer deadline, but the Blues had a frustrating window and even failed to cut short Emerson Palmieiri’s loan spell at Lyon with a £3 million compensation offer.
Chelsea reportedly made a last-ditch bid for Juventus and Brazil star Alex Sandro, according to reports from Italy this week.
Tuchel, frustrated earlier this month, warned that if the club did strengthen, the club’s title charge would come to a halt.
‘If you lose options, you lose options,’ Chelsea’s head coach told reporters. ‘You lose options not only in personnel, but also in tactics and formation.’
‘We weigh our options, and it has to make sense in the end.’ It’s not just about the numbers when it comes to attracting players.
‘It has to be a good balance of high quality, high-level attitude, and character.’ Then it must be feasible.
‘It appears that everyone would like to have it.’ I’d love to say we don’t need anything if we had a full squad to answer this question. But we have a problem, which is why we’re looking into it.