Reece James could miss the World Cup after damaging knee ligaments against Milan, handing England a selection crisis at right wing-back, and Chelsea are also worried N’Golo Kanté will be out of action for the rest of the year.
Graham Potter was unable to deliver much positivity before Chelsea’s trip to Aston Villa on Sunday. Potter reported that the France centre-back Wesley Fofana was unlikely to feature before the World Cup, said that it was “not good news” on Kanté’s recovery from a hamstring injury and confirmed that James would visit a specialist this weekend to determine whether he requires knee surgery.
The initial signs were that James, who went off during Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Milan on Tuesday, had not sustained serious damage. The 22-year-old, who has been in outstanding form for club and country this season, took an EasyJet flight back from Italy on Wednesday night and was understood to be hopeful of making a swift return to action.
However James received bad news when he underwent a scan in London on Thursday. The tests revealed that he had damaged ligaments and could be out for six to eight weeks, which would give him little chance of being ready in time for the beginning of the World Cup. James was in line to start in England’s opening group game against Iran on 21 November.
“He is due to see a specialist over the weekend,” Potter said. “Until we get that information, there’s not too much I can add. We will wait and see. He spoke yesterday and felt not too bad. But until you get these things checked, you never know.”
Losing James, who started England’s Nations League games against Germany and Italy last month, would be a major blow for Gareth Southgate. England’s manager usually has an embarrassment of riches at right-back but injuries are threatening to ruin his plans.
Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, who is an option at right centre-back and right-back, could miss the tournament after undergoing groin surgery last week. Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold has an ankle injury and James’s potential unavailability could force Southgate to start Kieran Trippier at right wing-back. The injuries could give Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters a chance of going to Qatar, although a 26-man squad will give Southgate the opportunity to pick James if he looks likely to return to fitness after the group stage.
England are not the only country with worries over key players. Kanté has not played since sustaining a hamstring injury during Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham on 14 August and the France midfielder suffered a setback in his recovery last weekend. “He’s due to see a consultant this weekend,” Potter said. “It’s not good news.”
Kanté’s hopes of featuring in Qatar look slim and the 31-year-old’s long-standing injury problems could affect his hopes of extending his Chelsea contract beyond this season.
France could also be without Fofana after the £69.5m defender injured a knee during this month’s 3-0 win over Milan at Stamford Bridge. “I don’t think we will see him before the World Cup,” Potter said.
Chelsea, who remain hugely interested in Rafael Leão after failing to sign the Milan winger last summer, have agreed a deal to appoint Southampton’s Joe Shields as their co-director of recruitment. Shields joined Southampton from Manchester City only in July and is expected to go on gardening leave before beginning his new role.
Chelsea’s owners, Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, are restructuring their recruitment department. They are close to appointing Christopher Vivell as technical director, but it is believed that they are moving away from plans to appoint a sporting director. Instead it appears that they are looking to build their recruitment team by making several more hires. It is understood that Norwich’s Stuart Webber is not under serious consideration for a role at the moment.