Lampard: Raw talent James will become a big player for Chelsea
Frank Lampard lauded Reece James on his first start for Chelsea in the Premier League as he opted for the 19-year-old over club captain Cesar Azpilicueta against Crystal Palace.
James coped well with Palace's star player Wilfried Zaha as Chelsea won 2-0 in the London derby at Stamford Bridge, thanks to goals from Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic.
Lampard gave James his start after being impressed with the teenager's training performances and displays off the bench, including the one against Ajax where he got the equalising goal in a 4-4 Champions League thriller.
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The academy graduate now looms as Chelsea's future right-back, according to his manager.
"He’s got the abilities to go very, very far. It’s hard to cap that or not cap it, but what I see from him in training, I saw it in him at Wigan," Lampard told reporters. "Jody and Joe know him well from the youth teams here and speak highly of him of talents.
"I saw it last year and I’m seeing it now in training. When you see experienced players respect young players who come train with them and see the quality, it’s always a good sign. I’ve got huge belief that he can go as far as he wants to go in the game.
"I’ve seen so much improvement. His raw talent and ability was there to see today. This is just the start of the story. There is a lot more to add to that. He’s going to be a big, big player for this club.
"Right-back would be his favourite position. Whether right-back, or wing-back, or right of three centre backs, that would be his ideal position. At the moment as he’s coming into the team, you’ll see him there, but he does have that natural round game that he can handle playing centrally and in midfield, if need be.
"At the moment we’ve got good players in there that are used to playing in there but he could always do that as his career matures."
The Blues started with the youngest team of any Premier League side in the early kick-off on Saturday against Palace.
James is a player that Lampard admired since he was in charge at Derby County, where he tried to hijack the defender's Wigan Athletic loan in January, only for the youngster to reject him in order to repay the faith shown in him from the Lancashire club.
Palace are admirers of James and tried to sign him to replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka after he signed for Manchester United this summer with Hodgson admitting that James' display was impressive up against his best player.
"I thought it was a good battle," Hodgson said at Stamford Bridge. "Reece James must be very pleased with himself. He's playing against such a dangerous opponent in his first start in the Premier League after his excellent performance on Tuesday night when he came in.
"He has got to be delighted playing at home against a player of Zaha's quality. He made life very difficult for Wilf so congratulations to him."
James' good form may lead to Chelsea benching their captain more often in the future with Lampard glad to have options across his backline as competition at full-back heats up.
"He [Azpilicueta] took it as I thought he would, as a perfect professional," Lampard added. "It was not a problem. He wants to play, of course, he does, but he also understands the quality of Reece and the fact that through the long course of the season, not just for Azpi but for every position, there is a lot of change.
"Azpi had played every minute of every game this season, barring the EFL Cup. So I don’t think it was the worst for him to have a rest. We’ve got massive games coming up after the break."