The options Graham Potter has at Chelsea for Reece James replacements after massive injury blow

Chelsea have received a massive blow as understands Reece James’ injury sustained in the second half against AC Milan is worse than first thought.

James, who started the match at San Siro, was substituted off in the second half after going down holding his knee following an awkward landing. The 22-year-old walked off the pitch and was seen in Milan a day later than his teammates which raised hopes that the injury might not be as bad as first feared.

With the winter World Cup just five weeks away, the rightback faces a race to be fit and Graham Potter must deal with a Chelsea squad missing one of their best performers over an intense period of time.

In the immediate future it looks as if Cesar Azpilicueta will have to fill in at full-back. The Chelsea captain was rotated in for James against Wolves last weekend and impressed in a back four despite his attacking limitations, but over a stretch of nine games in four weeks, the 33-year- old is no match for James’ speed, energy or technical threat.

Azpilicueta has largely played as a centre-back since 2017 but has occasionally filled in at full- back and wing-back, though his declining speed and forward play decrease his efficiency and output in these positions. Trevoh Chalobah has also be used sparingly in these areas but he also prefers to play as a centre-back.

In a back three, Chelsea have also used Ruben Loftus-Cheek as a makeshift defender. His physical presence and dribbling is perhaps the best fit to James’ profile, but the midfielder lacks the same defensive knowhow at wing-back.

With 11 games still to play before the January window opens, and no obvious backup for James in the long-term, Potter may have to start planning for his defensive options earlier than previously thought.

Although the extent of the injury is not yet known, and missing the World Cup would allow him time to recover, Chelsea were aware of the risk taken to not buy a new right-sided defender over the summer.

The Blues looked at Jonathon Clauss and Denzel Dumfries to strengthen, they were also keen on signing Achraf Hakimi last year too as Tino Livramento left the club.

Serginio Dest was seen as an outside option too due to his versatility, whilst the club hold an interest in rebuying Livramento when his release clause becomes active next summer.

Potter has already used Raheem Sterling in a wing-back role – as such, he was more of a left winger – and Christian Pulisic has played there before, so Potter has immediate options that should be able to get him through a tricky period.

How this pans out over a course of three games a week in a busy schedule is another question though, and Chelsea are undoubtedly a weaker team when James doesn’t play.

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