Thomas Tuchel’s make finally decision, if Chelsea star Reece James should be replaced by Jules Kounde

April 22nd, 2022

Thomas Tuchel's make finally decision, if Chelsea star Reece James should be replaced by Jules Kounde

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“I love him in both positions. I’m not sure (what his best position is).” Thomas Tuchel expressed firmly when asked if Reece James’ new position would be in the German’s back-three rather than as a wing-back.

“I think the back three is less demanding physically in comparison to the wing-back position,” Tuchel explained. “Given he 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.”

Tuchel stuck with James as a right-sided centre-back in the defeat to Arsenal, a game that saw a third consecutive defensive collapse at Stamford Bridge. James was not at fault for any of Arsenal’s four goals, and the switch proved costly at the other end.

Chelsea have generally been accused of lacking creativity in their ranks. A side under Thomas Tuchel focuses more on controlled possession, neatly playing the ball and protecting their structure over great risk.

The issue with James being moved to a more defensive position is that it effectively nullifies one of Chelsea’s most productive players. With six goals and seven assists to his name this season, the English defender has proved a consistent threat from the right, flying forward, getting into the box and using his incredible technique to carve out dangerous crosses.

When in a back-three, the areas he naturally occupies do not allow him the same freedom, and whilst Tuchel may refer to less physical demand, there is an offensive price that Chelsea has and will continue to pay.

Whilst the switch worked on a one-off occasion in nullifying the speed of Vinicius for Real Madrid, against an Arsenal side sitting deeper and posing most of their threat down the left made the tactic less justified. Cesar Azpilicueta did find the back of the net from the right wingback role, but in the Blues buildup, the rhythm and threat compared to James just are not the same.

What this recent move ultimately signals is the importance of Chelsea’s new owners to invest this summer in a new centre-back. Particularly one with speed who can give extra licence to James on the right to maraud forward and express his talent. Tuchel did switch James back to his wingback role in the second half against Arsenal as the Blues chased an equaliser.

But given the struggles of Azpilicueta or Andreas Christensen in that wide centre-back role recently, this issue has only become more pronounced. The importance of this investment is obviously heightened by the contract situation, which could still see Antonio Rudiger and the aforementioned Christensen depart this upcoming window.

The target on everyone’s lips since last summer has been Sevilla’s Jules Kounde. The French defender appeared on the brink of joining Chelsea in 2021 before negotiations between both clubs broke down before deadline day. Though, as was reported after the January window, Kounde very much remains a target in the eyes of the club.

Kounde can offer speed from the right and marauding runs forward of his own. Also, the versatility to shift over to a right-back role if needed. With FBRef ranking him in the 90 percentile for progressive carries and dribbles completed. He very much fits the mould of a modern ball-playing defender.

And whilst his height and physicality were sighted as concerns last year, his aerials won of 3.18 per 90, ranks better than Trevoh Chalobah, Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen. Three players who’ve regularly featured on the right of Tuchel’s back-three.

Using James as a centre-back has worked as an experiment, a testament to his talent and mentality, but to stick with this would be to limit arguably Chelsea’s most valuable player in the coming years.