Very tough decision: Reece James leaves Pochettino with very tough decision ahead of Tottenham clash

Chelsea captain Reece James leaves Pochettino with very tough decision ahead of Tottenham clash

The sight of captain Reece James leading out the team was a boost everyone at Chelsea needed.

James started for the first time since the opening day of the season as Mauricio Pochettino’s side found solace in the Carabao Cup to lift the mood ahead of their trip to Tottenham on Monday.

The right-back played just over an hour at Stamford Bridge, as he builds his way back to full fitness after two months out with a hamstring injury.

Benoit Badiashile, also returning from a hamstring injury, opened the scoring and Raheem Sterling secured victory, but it was the return of James to the starting XI that felt most significant.

James is still playing within himself as he rebuilds confidence in his body, but he makes such a difference to Chelsea.

He offers thrust down the right and last night his presence alone gave supporters a lift.

Pochettino knows he must manage James carefully given his injury record, and he faces a huge call over whether to start the 23-year-old away at Spurs.

Monday is a big night for Pochettino, who returns to his former club for the first time and with scrutiny on him building following a disappointing start to the season.

The upside of playing James, even if he is not in full flow, is obvious.

But Pochettino knows the player is at risk of breaking down if he is rushed back too soon, and he can ill-afford another injury setback for one of his most important players.

The head coach admitted he felt he needed to “protect” James by taking him off last night, after the defender started to “feel tired” early in the second half.

James has played six, 23 and now 61 minutes in three substitute appearances since his return.

Starting him against high-flying Spurs, on what is set to be an intense night in north London, would be a significant step up.

“The plan was to check at half-time how he felt and was,” said Pochettino. “After the 50th minute he started to feel tired and we were checking in the second half. He was a little bit tired and we needed to be careful how we managed him.

“At that moment we decided to change and protect him. It is important we are careful not to go back to play 90 minutes and take some risks. We cannot avoid 100 per cent the risk but the plan is to go in little by little. It’s really important, especially if he’s your captain, that he can stay fit and can play and help the team.

“He’s an important player for us, an amazing player, for me he’s one of the best full-backs in the world. It’s unlucky that we only played with him 70 minutes against Liverpool in the first game and it was until today that he can play from the start.

“Of course the temptation now is to say go and play 90 minutes but we need to be careful and little by little he is going to get fit and able to cope with the amount of games.”

Chelsea are doing all they can with James to end his reoccurring hamstring issues without the need for surgery.

Badiashile took a surgical approach to his hamstring problem in May and was sidelined for five months before his return last night.

A rested Thiago Silva and Levi Colwill, who came on for Badiashile in the second half, are expected to start at centre-back against Spurs but his comeback was another boost for the Blues.

Cole Palmer impressed again and is emerging as a leading player under Pochettino.

A win over a Championship side does not mean Chelsea have turned a corner, but they do have some momentum ahead of a daunting five-game run in the Premier League.

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