The two defenders were used to playing in back four systems under Frank Lampard but Thomas Tuchel has found the perfect way to utilise them as wing-backs
Both Reece James and Ben Chilwell were on the scoresheet as Chelsea battered Norwich 7-0 last time out in the Premier League to cement their place at the top of the table.
Mason Mount helped himself to a hat-trick in the game, adding to an own goal from Max Aarons and Callum Hudson-Odoi’s strike as Chelsea cantered to an easy win over a Canaries outfit that already look doomed.
James netted his second goal of the season in the first half of the Norwich game as he finished off a rapid Blues counter-attack with a lovely clipped finish over Tim Krul.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for both defenders in the last ten months since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at the helm in west London.
Chilwell initially found himself taken out of the firing line after looking exhausted under Lampard thanks to the former head coach annexing Marcos Alonso after a game against West Bromwich Albion.
For James, he found Cesar Azpilicueta preferred in Tuchel’s back line initially and a thigh injury then ruled him out for three games.
Callum Hudson-Odoi was also starting games at right wing-back in Tuchel’s system.
But both of them eventually forced their way back into the head coach’s plans and both had huge roles in Chelsea’s run to Champions League glory last season and winning their race to finish in the top four on the final day of the season.
Both were away with England for the EURO 2020 tournament but neither saw too much game time.
James’ only minutes were the 90 he got in a Group Stage draw with Scotland at Wembley while for Chilwell, he didn’t see any action at all across the tournament which has been well-documented.
Fast forward to 2021/22, Chilwell was out of the side again for the first six Premier League games of the season as Alonso was preferred by Tuchel with the head coach saying he felt that the England international was mentally fatigued.
James had seen more regular minutes at the start of this season, scoring in the 2-0 win over Arsenal to boot, as Chelsea started the season strongly.
A harsh red card for handball in the 1-1 draw at Liverpool stalled James a bit, as did an ankle injury picked up in the defeat to Manchester City.
But both looked very much on top of their game as Chelsea ran riot against a hopeless Norwich last weekend and their conversions to wing-backs under Tuchel’s watch is looking like a move that has paid off incredibly well for the head coach.
Tuchel was asked about the form of James and Chilwell ahead of the Blues’ trip to Newcastle this weekend, where both are likely to start, and how important their roles are to the success of a team that has netted 23 goals and conceded only three so far this season in the top flight.
“Very important, very important position in the system we play,” Tuchel said.
“Very important part of the position is to arrive in the box and to create a goal threat from that position.
Not to just be the ball-possession guy on the side and to be responsible for ball control.
This is what we want and what we demand.
“I’m happy that Chilly is growing into his full potential and pushing the limits constantly because it fits, in my opinion, pretty perfectly in his player profile.
For Reecey, you see sometimes he plays in the back line of three. I would not do this with Chilly.
In terms of character, he’s not a guy who can play in the back three.
He takes by character a little more risk, he feels a little more free to arrive in offensive positions.
“We have to encourage him to trust himself to arrive in the box and be dangerous because he can be a real threat positionally but also technically.
“The finishing, some fantastic goals, against Arsenal and now against Norwich, technical ability was brilliant and they need to feel into it,
understand the game and the responsibility of when they have to arrive and maybe provide protection around the box.
“The more they understand it, the more natural it comes, the less they think about it, the better it gets. I’m happy with everybody.
Marcos was very strong at the beginning. Chilly is now very strong. Reecey, very strong.”