Chelsea’s Reece James problem that Frank Lampard needs to solve in time for Real Madrid showdown
Chelsea were unable to properly threaten Wolves’ defence on Saturday afternoon in what was a dire performance from the visitors at Molineux. The Blues had 13 shots throughout the 90 minutes but only tested Jose Sa on one occasion and that was in the first half when Joao Felix shot from outside the box fell straight into the arms of his Portuguese compatriot. Chelsea were unable to make any real clear-cut opportunities despite having 63 per cent of possession in the west Midlands.
Staggeringly, the Blues have had 52 shots over their last three matches in the Premier League, with 12 of them on target, but not one of them has found the back of the net. It’s been an issue for Chelsea all season long in front of goal. Their top scorer in the Premier League is Kai Havertz and he only has seven goals to his name despite playing considerably more minutes than anyone else in the squad.
In recent matches, Chelsea have been using a back-three formation and have relied heavily on their wing-backs to threaten going forward. Ben Chilwell and Reece James have been so crucial in that but on Saturday it was a completely different story. Interim boss Frank Lampard started with four-at-the-back in his first match since returning to his beloved club.
Lampard opted with Marc Cucurella instead of Chilwell at left-back and while James played the full 90 minutes at Molineux, he was unable to make too much of an impact. Quite often in possession, James would tuck in and play as a central midfielder essentially, something we also saw from Trent Alexander-Arnold in Liverpool’s thrilling draw with Arsenal on Sunday afternoon.
It’s something we’ve seen plenty from in James in the past but it meant he was unable to overlap as much as some of the club’s supporters would have liked. As you can see below in the heatmap, James spent most of his time in a position you’d expect from a right-back but there are patches across midfield where he tucked in on several occasions.
The Chelsea right-back would have liked more of the heat on the map to be further up the pitch as well, but that was down to the way his side played more than anything. When watching the game back, there were only really three instances when James got in behind the Wolves defenders and into a dangerous crossing position.
Unfortunately for the England international, he was unable to find that decisive pass and provide an assist to get Chelsea back into the game. Julen Lopetegui did a good job in ensuring his sides had plenty of men behind the ball so when James did find himself free in the middle of the pitch, he wasn’t able to pick out any of his teammates in dangerous positions.
He almost found himself as an extra midfielder in attack, completing a three-man midfield with Conor Gallagher looking to advance with runs into the box. It did seem, though, in the second half especially that James was told to stay wide and not drift in as much.
He occasionally found himself in the sort of positions he would be in if he was playing as a wing-back rather than a full-back in the back-four, but it didn’t happen often enough. We all know by now just how crucial James is to Chelsea’s attack but Lampard was unable to unlock his talent on Saturday.
If Chelsea are to break down what is a stubborn Real Madrid defence at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night, then the Blues’ full-backs are going to be integral in doing so. Lampard needs to find the right way to use James because what happened on Saturday restricted him a lot more than he would have liked.
It could mean a return to the three-back formation we saw in the latter stages of Graham Potter’s tenure at the club, or it could be a similar system to what we saw at Molineux but trying to get him into more dangerous positions on the pitch.