EPL

Mauricio Pochettino preaches patience with Reece James despite England hopes

By Sports Desk March 01, 2024

Mauricio Pochettino insists Reece James will not be rushed back from the hamstring injury that has disrupted his season, even if a delayed return costs him a place in England’s Euro 2024 squad.

The club captain has made just eight Premier League appearances this campaign and is at risk of missing out on a second international tournament in as many years, having been ruled out of the 2022 World Cup with a knee problem.

He featured only 16 times in the league last season when a combination of knee and hamstring injuries kept him on the sidelines for club and country.

And after being forced off during August’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool he has had even worse luck this term.

The 24-year-old, who has only once in his Chelsea career reached 30 league appearances in a season, teased on social media this week that “the comeback is coming” and has returned to the training pitch, albeit working separately from his team-mates.

However, with a history of recurring fitness problems, Pochettino was understandably cautious about reintroducing him and was adamant he would not be hurried back for the sake of his international place.

“I cannot say the date of when it’s possible,” said the Argentinian. “His target and our target is for him to be fit and feel happy and well. Then we’ll see about the possibility of going to the Euros or not, or to be ready for next season or to play before we finish this season.

“The most important thing now is to build his confidence, his physical condition, to recover all the good feelings.

“The target is not to try and play the last five games or in the Euros or pre-season. The target is to build again his confidence and to feel strong, then to start to play when he feels strong and can deal again with the competition.”

Despite establishing himself as a key figure for Chelsea when fit, James has so far made just a single major tournament appearance, starting for Gareth Southgate’s side in a goalless draw with Scotland at Euro 2020.

He looked set to be a member of the squad in Qatar until a knee injury in a Champions League match against AC Milan scuppered his chances.

“I didn’t speak with (Southgate),” said Pochettino. “But we have spoken people involved in (the FA), medical, performance people.

“It’s not ‘now I can go on the pitch, I can play’. It’s to be sure we can go to the competition and he can feel strong and can forget all that has happened in the past.”

James will be one of seven players unavailable to Pochettino at Brentford on Saturday.

Injures have severely disrupted the seasons of Christopher Nkunku, Romeo Lavia, Lesley Ugochukwu and Carney Chukwuemeka, whilst Wesley Fofana is likely to be forced to miss the entire campaign.

The manager reiterated his frustration at the impact injuries have had on his first season in charge.

“When you start the season, you put in your head the idea of the potential of the squad,” he said. “When you think about Nkunku, Reece, (Ben) Chilwell or Fofana, Lavia, (Moises) Caicedo, you imagine the players in the best place, with all their potential.

“Then when the circumstances happen, of course it’s about translating the reality. If you go back and say ‘no, you said we can play to win the Premier League’ – when you see the possibility that you have with the squad, then of course.

“But then with the circumstance, the reality, we’ve had 10, 12 players every single week out. That will affect the performance of the team.”

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