Thomas Tuchel might have inadvertently stumbled onto an issue with his current squad when answering repeated questions over Reece James’ positioning in his lineup.
Speaking on Wednesday before the clash with Manchester United on Thursday night, Tuchel said, “I would love to have two or three Reece James’. I see him 55% towards wing-back and 45% in the back three.”
James has recently been playing in his back-three, which has hurt the Blues in their creativity. But a similar issue that Tuchel has with the Cobham graduate is the lack of adequate depth for him at the right wing-back position.
Cesar Azpilicueta, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic have all been fielded there, but few offer the same profile to James, which causes an issue when you either shift him back into a more defensive position, or he’s injured.
But this summer, there may be a fresh option that is more suited in the form of another academy breakthrough.
As Nizaar Kinsella of Goal reported on Tuesday, Dujon Sterling was told to get ready for pre-season after returning to Cobham for treatment on a minor ankle injury.
Sterling has been on loan in the Championship with Blackpool this season and has been a regular in Neil Critchley’s side, playing prominently as a right wingback, sometimes filling in on the right side of a back-three or as a left wingback.
After brief glimpses of him last summer, using Sterling in pre-season could give Tuchel a chance to repeat the Trevoh Chalobah story, helping to save the Blues money in the transfer market by promoting an internal solution.
Using Sterling as a squad player over the season as mainly cover for Reece James could also boost plans for the 2023 summer transfer window too.
It is in that summer when the buyback clause for Tino Livramento kicks in. As The Athletic reported, when Livramento was sold to Southampton for £5m last year, the fee is believed to be around £38m, which could prove to be a bargain given his performances.
Livramento has very recently hit a massive setback, suffering an ACL injury that will rule him out for the rest of 2022, and as we have seen with the likes of Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek, recovering from an injury of that severity has long-lasting effects even after you’ve got back on the pitch.
The hope will be that the 19-year-old fullback, who has impressed in his first season of senior football in the Premier League, can continue his fast development at Southampton, which could aid the Blues ability to trigger that buyback in 2023 if the player would be open to a Chelsea return.
But even if not, the promotion of Sterling may even offer Chelsea that player straight away as Chalobah did in 2021, which would prove a big bonus amidst an unpredictable and challenging summer.