James to miss Club World Cup but Tuchel enthusiastic about Kenedy opportunity

By Sports Desk February 04, 2022

Reece James is still a few weeks from his return from injury as Thomas Tuchel confirmed the defender will not travel with Chelsea to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup.

James suffered a hamstring injury at the end of December and has been unable to return to team training since.

His absence proved a big blow for the Blues given James' importance in his right wing-back role – between the start of the season and December 29, he had a hand in the joint-most goals (11) across all competitions in their squad, while only Mason Mount (42) laid on more key passes than James (38).

James' injury was especially frustrating for Chelsea given they had already lost Ben Chilwell for the rest of the season after sustained a serious knee injury the previous month.

And James will not be back in the immediate future, Tuchel confirmed on Friday, though he did not seem too disheartened at Chelsea's inability to bring in extra cover for the wing-backs during the January transfer window.

"We tried and had ideas, but in the end we stick to what we have and are happy," Tuchel told reporters ahead of Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round clash with Plymouth Argyle.

"Reece will come back at some point [this season], unfortunately not Ben Chilwell, but Reece will come back and compete for a place in the squad.

"Azpi [Cesar Azpilicueta] at the moment is in fantastic form and a fantastic place. That is why it's fine. We try to find solutions in our squad.

"[James] is not in team training yet. After a couple of weeks, he will need some time in team training to get the rhythm and confidence back before we think about playing him.

 

"So he does not travel with us to the Club World Cup. For Reece, I am too long a coach to get overexcited by pure dates that are maybe out there.

"I know you can have setbacks and can take longer sometimes. The injury was a big injury and I felt it straight away. The diagnosis was straight away it was a big injury and from there we have to be patient.

"It's always a bit of a tricky one, and he is a physical player. He caught flu in the last week and lost days in his process of coming back to the team.

"We are patient and we want to have him on the pitch [on Saturday], of course, but it's not happening at the moment and we have to stay patient."

Although Chelsea did not sign anyone in January, Kenedy returned from a loan spell with Flamengo and will fill a void in the squad for the rest of the season.

Tuchel believes the winger could be a useful option as a wing-back and he was enthusiastic about giving the 25-year-old Brazilian a second chance at Chelsea, for whom he has played just 15 Premier League games since joining from Fluminense in 2015.

"It's a clean slate and I think he knows it," Tuchel said. "I followed Kenedy for many years, I followed him when he played for Newcastle.

"He was very promising in the early part of his career. He lost track a little bit and maybe couldn't fulfil the demands from the outside I had, but this is life.

"He gets a second or third chance to be here, and it's not about what happened. He was good in pre-season, he decided he wanted to go back to Brazil and try there. But having Kenedy and Emerson on loan, Kenedy was possible [to bring back] and now he is here.

"He is a very nice guy, very talented, and let's see where he is. It's a huge opportunity, and I am very happy to give it to him and help him make the best of it."

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    The departure of the midfielder brings to a close a 12-year association with Leeds, whom he came through the academy system with, and helped steer back to the Premier League in the 2019-2020 campaign.

    Phillips addressed the club and its supporters in a lengthy statement on social media shortly after the confirmation of his transfer, thanking them all and reserving additional praise for former boss Marcelo Bielsa.

    The Argentine, who guided Leeds back to the top-flight before he was relieved of duties earlier this year, is widely credited with turning the midfielder into one of the sharpest talents in the English game.

    "I would like to express how much of a privilege it has been to play for this amazing club," Phillips stated. "Since making my debut at 17, it has been a journey any Leeds lad could wish for.

    "When I was young, I went to see my first ever Leeds game at Elland Road and from that moment, I knew that my dream was to put on that white shirt and walk out on that pitch.

    "I'd like to thank everyone involved at the club for making Leeds one of the best clubs on earth. Every manager I have played under for showing trust in me and teaching me all I know.

    "I cannot mention Leeds without mentioning one special person - Marcelo. [You are] the best manager I have ever come across.

    "He was a man that gave the club life, he gave the players, and everyone involved in the club belief that we were good enough to return to the Premier League."

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    Gyabi becomes Leeds' fourth signing of the window, following the arrivals of Brenden Aaronson, Rasmus Kristensen and Marc Roca.

  • Phillips, Guardiola and Man City a match made in heaven Phillips, Guardiola and Man City a match made in heaven

    When it comes to recruitment and squad construction, there aren't many clubs – if any – that are run more effectively than Manchester City.

    Their Premier League title success in the 2021-22 season was just another reminder of how good they are on the pitch, yet the people in charge are not the types to simply sit around admiring their achievements.

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    Of course, the most obvious – and arguably crucial – link here is Marcelo Bielsa. It was under the Argentinian coach that Phillips has played the best football of his career and cemented himself as an England regular.

    Bielsa is also considered one of Pep Guardiola's greatest inspirations, with an apparent 11-hour meeting between the pair back in 2006 said to have played a major role in the City boss' decision to go into management.

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    Under Bielsa he'll have become accustomed to not only intense training sessions, but also a playing philosophy that revolves around possession-based football and relentless counter pressing.

    In terms of the latter, City are perhaps a little more considered in their efforts compared to Bielsa's Leeds, but either way Phillips has been exposed to the same fundamentals, and that can only be a tick in the pros column.

    After all, a second-season bounce has become commonplace for signings under Guardiola. Numerous players have needed a full campaign to truly get to grips with the demands required by the Catalan coach before going on to show significant improvement and growth thereafter – Phillips might be better-equipped than most to hit the ground running.

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    Rodri the immovable object

    Having come through Leeds' academy, established himself as a key player and then gone on to be a fulcrum in Bielsa's team, Phillips was the first name on the teamsheet – when fit – for several years at Elland Road.

    Regardless of his suitability for City, it seems unlikely he'll enjoy a similar status in Guardiola's team. Phillips is at his most effective as lone defensive midfielder, but so too is Rodri, and it's difficult to imagine the Spain international being suddenly taken out of the team given how effective he's proven to be.

    Rodri's 2,937 successful passes in the opposition's half since the start of the 2020-21 season is over 400 more than any other Premier League player, and his 577 ball recoveries over the same period is the joint-most alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, though the Dane has played almost 1,000 minutes more.

    Of course, who's to say Phillips couldn't play the role even more effectively? But the key thing to consider is that Rodri has an important function in both keeping City on the ball and then winning it back when they don't, and he demonstrably does both well.

    Nevertheless, Guardiola's proven he's a coach keen to rotate. He gave at least 900 minutes of Premier League football to 18 players last season, with only four teams bettering that, so Phillips can still expect plenty of game time.

    And, to be fair, Phillips might not have even been up to the task of being a regular starter for City given how much time he spent sidelined last season.

    A match made in heaven

    Clearly, then, Guardiola's rotation policy would suggest Phillips will have opportunities to deputise for Rodri and take up the back-up role vacated by Fernandinho, yet there's no doubt he possesses the skillset to also play alongside the former Atletico Madrid midfielder as well.

    First and foremost, he's a more progressive player than Rodri. Over the past two seasons, 28 per cent of Phillips' passes have been forward, the exact same figure as Fernandinho and a fair bit more than Rodri's 20 per cent.

    Similarly, in the same period Phillips has played 3.5 passes into the box every 90 minutes, whereas Rodri has averaged two, and his 1.0 dribble attempts each game is also slightly more than his new team-mate (0.9).

    But in a way it shouldn't necessarily matter which midfield role Phillips plays in, given he has a range of abilities that should suit him either as a number six or a number eight, especially in a Guardiola team.

    On top of that, Phillips doesn't turn 27 until December, so he is very much entering his prime years, and if anyone can squeeze every ounce of potential out of a player, it's Guardiola.

    Then when you consider Phillips' history with Bielsa and type of team he played in at Leeds, everything points to this being a match made in heaven.

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