By now, it is very clear that Reece James is an extremely important football player for his country and his club.
The right-back was forced to sit on the sidelines during the Qatar World Cup after suffering a knee injury on October 11, playing a Champions League game against AC Milan.
His energy and skill were sorely missed by Chelsea and England, with both Graham Potter and Southgate tinkering with their squads to adjust to his absenteeism.
Southgate at least had the luxury of Kyle Walker to fill in, but Potter’s options have been lesser, with Trevoh Chalobah, veteran Azpilicueta and versatile Loftus-Cheek taking turns to play in James’ position.
Needless to say, the Chelsea manager wanted the player back to full fitness as soon as possible.
Having the whole cup break to recovery, Reece returned to training at the start of December, a sight Potter must have loved to see.
Come the first game of the second half of the Premier League, Reece James was included in the starting line-up against Bournemouth.
In the lead-up to the game, Potter had mentioned that the player was “in a good place” after a heart-wrenching experience of missing out on the prestigious tournament.
However, this comeback lasted only 51 minutes. James, contesting for the ball, felt a twinge in the same just-recovered-from-injury knee, before going down and signalling to the bench.
His agony was there for all to see, as the player covered his face and looked to be in trouble before asking for the medical staff.
It was confirmed by British broadcasters SkySports that he left the stadium wearing a brace on his right knee.
Fans prayed that it was not the same issue as before but it wasn’t to be, as Potter later confirmed that the injury is indeed in the same area that caused the player to miss the world cup.
He added that the club and the medical staff will assess the player in the next 24-48 hours, hoping it was not as bad as before.
James was subsequently subbed off for Azpilicueta but questions are being asked if the 24-year-old was even fit to play in the first place, let alone start the game.
Fingers are being pointed at the Chelsea medical staff, and more specifically towards Potter, whose decision it must have been ultimately to start the right back.
Adding fuel to the fire is a since-deleted Instagram story posted by Reece James’ private performance coach James Ralph.
The story simply said “I need to bite my tongue despite having ALOT to say…” along with three emojis depicting anger, sadness and a zipped mouth.
Major Jose Mourinho vibes.
Does this mean James was not fit to play but the trainer’s advice was overruled? We are not sure.
We are not even sure if this story is posted in reference to Reece’s injury, but it certainly looks like it.
And Potter certainly shares the blame on this one. Reece is coming back from a major injury and is playing his first game, after missing out on the only friendly Chelsea played during the Cup break against Aston Villa.
Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at 2-0 up, does James really need to get back on the pitch after half-time? Or should the manager be more cautious and sub him off, especially considering his importance of him to the squad?
Chelsea went on to win the game, moving up to eighth in the league.
But an educated guess says that very few Blues supporters went home happy.
Now we all wait for the all-important update regarding the player and his knee. Be it from the club, or from his performance coach.