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Chelsea transfer priority revealed and Reece James' new role as Enzo Maresca tactics explained

Leicester City Manager Enzo Maresca ahead of the Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on March 17, 2024
-Credit: (Image: Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)


Reece James could be revitalised at Chelsea, with Enzo Maresca set to hand the defender a new role in the starting lineup.

The 24-year-old suffered a hamstring injury at the start of the Premier League season, missing seven of the Blues' opening eight games. He was eventually reintroduced towards the end of October, captaining Chelsea to a 4-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur and a 4-4 draw against Manchester City.

Then, in December, James suffered a reoccurrence of his ongoing muscle problem. After much deliberation, the England international opted for surgery in hope of finally curing himself of any more hamstring issues, ruling himself out for a further five months.

While Malo Gusto impressed in his absence, Chelsea look a far more dangerous side with James on the right. However, the Cobham graduate's days of bombing down the wing may be over under Maresca, with the Italian notorious for operating an inverted full-back.

"When the full-back goes inside, we behave like we're playing three at the back," said the Leicester City boss in a sit-down interview with The Coaches Voice. "They [the two wide players of the back three] have to occupy the space and the main player is the central defender because he has to organise what's going on ahead of him.

Maresca added: "One of the reasons why we try to bring the full-back inside is defensive because in the moment we lose the ball, we have five players defending the transition. There are many reasons why we bring the full-back inside when we have the ball. The idea is to have an overload in the middle and always try to have an extra man."

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With James tucking inside and joining the holding midfielder in a double pivot, he'll have a lot more control on the game. The Blues captain isn't the only player who could be reinvigorated under Maresca, with a few other positions set to undergo tweaks too.

So, with that being said, football.london has looked at how Chelsea could line up under their potential new head coach.

Formation

Maresca has often opted for a back four in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation. But, when in deep build-up play, the goalkeeper sits almost alongside the centre-halves, pushing one of his full-backs inside as aforementioned.

Once his side breaches the opposition half while in possession, a 3-2-4-1 formation takes shape. Then, when defending last season, Leicester City dropped into a 4-4-2 formation.

Defence

At the back, Maresca would likely operate a back four of Levi Colwill, Benoit Badiashile, Trevoh Chalobah and Reece James, with either Robert Sanchez or Djordje Petrovic between the sticks. In possession, Colwill, Badiashile and Chalobah would essentially form a back three while James slots into midfield.

On the opening day of the season, however, Malo Gusto may be required to invert, with the Chelsea captain serving a suspension. In an ideal world, Chelsea sign a new goalkeeper this summer.

Petrovic impressed towards the end of the season, but his position has a great responsibility in deep build-up play under Maresca. If he's not deemed fit for purpose then the Italian as every right to demand a new shot-stopper.

Midfield

In the middle of the park, Maresca has some exciting options. As proven under Graham Potter and Mauricio Pochettino, Enzo Fernandez was far more effective when operating as a deep-lying playmaker in the number six position.

He'd sit alongside James in a double pivot. Moises Caicedo and Conor Gallagher will then likely be used as number eights, with the latter being granted a greater license to make forward runs.

However, it's important to note two things: Fernandez shall return to Cobham this summer following surgery on a groin injury and Romeo Lavia will be back in action. While the latter shields the backline, the Argentine could be trialled as a number eight alongside Caicedo.

Attack

At the top of the pitch, Maresca has an abundance of attacking talent to choose from. With Cole Palmer on the right, Nicolas Jackson spearheading the frontline and Christopher Nkunku on the left, Chelsea suddenly have a very dangerous-looking frontline.

If the Italian wanted to be brave, he could always shoehorn Palmer into the midfield three with Fernandez and Caicedo while Noni Madueke holds width on the right-wing.

So...

Maresca looks to be an exciting appointment – somebody who will implement structure and patterns of play to the Chelsea starting lineup. Ultimately, the Leicester City boss will have lots of exciting outfield players to choose from, many of whom he's already worked very closely with.

Chelsea's likely starting XI under Maresca: Robert Sanchez; Levi Colwill, Benoit Badiashile, Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James; Romeo Lavia; Enzo Fernandez, Moises Caicedo; Christopher Nkunku, Nicolas Jackson, Cole Palmer.