There have been pros and cons aplenty to the mid-season break in domestic action but the time afforded for Reece James to recover from his knee injury has been a huge positive for Chelsea, according to Graham Potter.
The full-back hasn’t featured since sustaining the injury at the San Siro in early October and missed England’s World Cup campaign in Qatar as a result.
However, James’s rehabilitation has progressed well and he played over an hour in a friendly against Brentford last week, with Potter hoping he will be able to feature more regularly in the games against Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest and a Manchester City double-header that lie ahead.
‘He was in a really good place before he got injured if you look at how the team was functioning,’ said the head coach. ‘Reece is a top player and when he’s not with us, it’s a miss.
‘The plan now is to try and help him play his minutes and the next challenge is building them up in the Premier League, which is not an ideal place to do that but he’s got the capacity to do it.
‘We just need to be clear and careful with the minutes that he plays but I’m confident that the more football he plays, the more we’ll see what a fantastic player he is.’
Psychological healing was needed as much as physical for James, who was left devastated to miss out on a first World Cup with an injury blow so soon before the tournament started.
He returned to the grass quickly and had hoped that would convince England manager Gareth Southgate to include him in the Three Lions squad but unfortunately the decision went against the 23-year-old and Potter acknowledges that was hard to take.
‘It’s a World Cup and they only come round every four years,’ he continued. ‘When you’re young, the perspective is not so easy to get because you just want to play in the World Cup and that’s really understandable.
‘It’s the same for Ben Chilwell and N’Golo Kante. It’s brutal really to have to deal with. I can try to help them and give them a bit of perspective but in the end it has to come from them, their families and the people close to them.
‘Thankfully, Reece has got all that in place. He’s done really well, he’s in a good mood and in a good place with us. He trains well, he’s a good team-mate and he’s dealt with it well. He’s been training for a few weeks now and that obviously helps. The best thing is that he’s playing football again and the World Cup has finished now so he can just concentrate on that.’
Having referenced Chilwell and Kante, who also missed the tournament with injury, Potter explained how the burden of staying fit and healthy in the build-up the World Cup would hopefully now be lifted throughout the squad.
‘It was a challenging period for all the players because you’ve got another 12 [those who went to the World Cup] who are watching their team-mates getting injured and missing the World Cup,’ he added. ‘You have to think on some level there’s an effect there too.
‘At least the young ones are thinking there are other opportunities. Thiago Silva, for example, will be thinking “this is my last chance so I need to stay healthy” and you don’t know how much that affects them.
‘It was a really challenging and interesting period before the World Cup but I think everyone will benefit from the fact they’ve gone and done it. Now they can come back and we can focus on the Premier League, the Champions League and all the things we’ve got to look forward to ourselves.’