Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel says he still does not know when wing-back Reece James will make his long-awaited return from a thigh injury.
James is yet to play in 2022 having been sidelined for more than six weeks after tearing his hamstring in the draw with Brighton at Stamford Bridge on 29 December.
The England international had been expected to be fit in time to be involved in Chelsea’s successful Club World Cup campaign in Abu Dhabi earlier in February, but he was set back in his recovery when he came down with the flu.
Despite being crowned world champions, the Blues have struggled domestically in James’ absence – effectively seeing their title challenge ended by winning just once in four Premier League matches, although they have progressed in the FA Cup and reached the Carabao Cup final.
Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s return to league action away to Crystal Palace on Saturday, head coach Tuchel revealed James was still in individual training and would only rejoin the group ahead of the EFL Cup final against Liverpool next Sunday.
“It’s too long for all of us, we miss him a lot,” he said. “I had the feeling from the start we had to deal with a big injury and unfortunately, my feeling was right.
“We had a setback when he caught the flu when he was close to rejoining team training. Like always, you have the risk with a physical player like Reece is with a muscle injury there is a delay.
Tuchel continued: “He’s still in individual training, progressing a lot. We’re waiting for him. The plan is for him to rejoin the group next week.”
When asked exactly when James might make his comeback, the German admitted he didn’t know, adding: “Once he is in the team training, that he is ready to be under a certain amount of pressure and freedom of movement.
“I don’t know (when he will return). I hope he will come back to team training next week, next step, then I can give you more.”
James had been in scintillating form before his injury, scoring five times and laying on six more from his wide-right position in Tuchel’s three-at-the-back system. His return will be timely with Chelsea continuing to fight in three cup competitions and an England squad announcement approaching ahead of the March international break.
Tuchel has also been boosted by the return of midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who is back in training after three weeks out with an Achilles injury.
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