Reece James has trained in three different positions over the past three days as England manager Gareth Southgate considers a change in formation for Sunday afternoon’s Group E opener against Croatia.
The Chelsea academy graduate has appeared at right wing back, right back and as the right-sided central defender in sessions at St George’s Park as Southgate sweats on the fitness of Manchester United captain Harry Maguire, who trained with his team-mates for the first time this morning following a month out with an ankle injury.
If Maguire is not fit for Sunday, Southgate is likely to switch to a three-man defence that would offer additional support to John Stones. Luke Shaw, the United left back, has also been given a chance to impress as a left-sided centre back in training.
Stones’ Manchester City team-mate Kyle Walker appears the most likely candidate to start as the right-sided defender against a Croatia team featuring Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic, but James’ recent appearances in that role for Thomas Tuchel have provided the national team with another option.
Asked where he has featured in training, James was not willing to give much away but the 21-year-old did confirm he has been moved around. “Probably the positions you could guess,” he said. “Wing back, centre back and right back. I’ve played all three so far. I don’t know what’s going to happen or what position I might feature in.”
Tuchel sprung a surprise when he moved James inside from his regular wing back role for last month’s FA Cup final against Leicester and he appeared in that position twice more before returning wide for the Champions League final win against Manchester City.
Yet it is a position James, who began as a striker and has also appeared as a holding midfielder in the Premier League, is familiar with, having been utilised there regularly coming through the ranks at Cobham.
“I played right-sided centre back many times coming through the academy so the position wasn’t new to me,” he added. “The position is much different to a wing back. You’re a defender, you can’t really go forward.
“As a defender you don’t have the license to push on and join in attacks. Defending on the right side of a three you’re limited to where you can go and what you can do.”
Chelsea will have players representing ten nations in the tournament and asked if he could bring another clubmate into the England camp there was little hesitation. “N’Golo Kante. He’s one player but he covers three players. He runs so much and works so hard,” added James.
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Kovacic joked earlier this week that he will be sharing the secrets of James, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount with his compatriots ahead of Sunday’s game, a repeat of the 2018 World Cup semi-final which Croatia won, but James can easily play that game.
“I know how he plays as well so I’m sure I’m going to tell the lads what he likes to do and what he doesn’t like to do,” he said.
“We’re coming up against a very strong side. They got to the World Cup final and we know it’s going to be a tough game and we need to prepare right. Everyone needs to remain focused and give everything.”