Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard commended Reece James’ handling of Wilfried Zaha on the right-back’s first Premier League start in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.
James, 19, spent last season on loan at Wigan Athletic and gained rave reviews for his performances, earning himself a place in Chelsea’s squad for Lampard’s first campaign at the helm.
The full-back suffered ankle ligament damage in August that prevented him from making much of an impact during the early stages of the season.
Lampard took the opportunity to test him and rest Cesar Azpilicueta for the visit of Palace and he put in an accomplished display, coping well with Zaha and showing his ability on the ball.
The Blues boss was impressed but also stressed the importance of first-choice right-back Azpilicueta.
When asked about informing Azpilicueta of his decision to play James, Lampard told reporters: “It’s part of my job.
“It would be a tougher call if I was speaking to Azpilicueta when he is having a difficult time and I am bringing a kid in to say this is a decision I am making. It is actually a decision [I’ve made] when Azpilicueta is playing really well for us.
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“He’s a leader and a driver, but Reece and the way he is playing, I thought with the opportunity to give him minutes in a game today was one I had to take. It gives me options going forward.
“Azpi is such a great personality and character that he is easy to speak to. He feels for the club and wants the best, that shows how much I value him now and going forward.
“It might give me some selection problems for sure, but I want the best for the team. It is a nice problem.
“I thought Reece was fantastic against one of the best wingers in the league one-v-one, a real threat and on the counter-attack.
“Reece dealt with most of those situations and he also joined in the attack. You can see how comfortable he is with the ball and his delivery and passing, so I was pleased.
“I trust in Reece and, out of all of the younger players who have been getting chances this year – he has had his injury earlier in the season – he has got fit that little bit later.
“But he has been training at a level and coming on at a level where he deserves his minutes today. He did brilliantly.”
It was put to Roy Hodgson that Zaha was a disappointment, but the Palace boss hit back at the suggestion.
“You’re asking me now to comment on individual performances, in every game of football,” Hodgson said. “They have just won the game, Chelsea. So, if you want Frank to give individual assessments of players then he will probably say, ‘He was fantastic, another not so good.’
“Wilf is doing what he needs for the team, he is working hard for the team. Against Arsenal he had an incredible game, and against Leicester. Perhaps today he wasn’t at his very best, but that is what football is, unfortunately.
“They are human beings. You can’t legislate people sometimes having a really good game the way you’d like, but what you can legislate for is the work they are putting in and adhere to the team’s play and plan, and in that respect, I thought Wilf was as good as anybody out there.”