Reece James will get more chances for England after shining on his first start at Wembley but red card after the final whistle will anger Gareth Southgate
- Reece James shone on his first start for England at Wembley on Wednesday
- The full-back almost set up a goal for Harry Kane three minutes into the game
- The Chelsea man linked up well with club team-mate Mason Mount on the right
- His late red card will have angered Gareth Southgate after a fine full debut
The first touch is always the most important. It tends to set the tone for what is about to follow, it lets you know about a player’s frame of mind.
History is littered with those who found the occasion of their first England start too much for their nerves, as their control let them down or an intended pass went askew.
Such struggles put Reece James’s opening moment into context. In the third minute, the young Chelsea man moved forward onto a raking ball and immediately swept the ball across the six-yard box, into the corridor that defenders and goalkeepers hate.
Reece James almost created a goal three minutes into his first start for England at Wembley
The young full-back’s night ended in disappointment as he was sent off after full-time
If only Harry Kane had shown better anticipation, there would have been a goal.
Kane was so impressed he turned around to the 20-year-old and hoisted up his hand, to acknowledge the quality and apologise for not making more out of it. Not bad, really, for a defender who was originally earmarked for Under-21 duty.
James was elevated to Gareth Southgate’s squad on October 5 to compensate for the absence of his club-mate Ben Chilwell and provide some quality cover.
Nine days later, he has got two senior caps in his locker and has very much enhanced his blossoming reputation.
James was elevated to Gareth Southgate’s senior squad in the absence of Ben Chilwell
It might have come as a surprise to see James in the starting line-up, not least as he was taking the position you would have assumed was the property of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold — but perhaps the biggest clue to this selection came against Belgium on Sunday. When Alexander-Arnold was replaced by James, he looked somewhat puzzled.
Though Southgate is never anything but positive when he discusses the PFA Young Player of the Year, the way he uses him suggests otherwise. Alexander-Arnold has not played a full 90 minutes for England since the 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro last November and he was consigned to the role of frustrated spectator for this Nations League fixture that always looked problematic.
Yet while many in England blue struggled, James was one of the notable exceptions. He rarely shows any kind of emotion when he is in the thick of a scrap, he simply puts his head down and gets on with it.
The 20-year-old looked comfortable at wing-back playing behind team-mate Mason Mount
But as the minutes ticked by, the more his involvement grew.
James was always a willing outlet, possibly a little more comfortable at wing-back than Alexander-Arnold was against Belgium, and the understanding he had with Mason Mount, his Chelsea team-mate, was obvious. His deliveries, in particular, were of the highest standard.
While circumstances prevented Ainsley Maitland-Niles from a having a similar impact on the left, James went about his work impressively and had the confidence to say in the 78th minute he was going to take a free-kick that forced a fingertip save from Kasper Schmeichel.
‘He didn’t look out of place at all,’ Southgate observed after he introduced James against Belgium. The head coach could have said the same again here and there will be many more opportunities for James in the future.
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