Reece James and N'Golo Kante will see specialists over the weekend amid fears the Chelsea duo could miss the World Cup.
James limped out of Tuesday's Champions League win over AC Milan with what appeared to be a knee injury while Kante was unavailable for that match having suffered a setback in his recovery from a hamstring issue. It has been suggested that both could fall short in their recovery before the World Cup kicks off in Qatar little over a month from now, a hammer blow for both the England and France national teams.
Speaking ahead of his side's Premier League game against Aston Villa, Graham Potter offered no conclusive suggestion that either player would be unavailable for the tournament before further tests are carried out. Equally he did nothing to quell fears over a lengthy absence for arguably Chelsea's two most important players with James' assessment this week believed to be to decide whether or not he will undergo surgery.
"Yesterday he felt not too bad but until you get these things checked you never know. We'll wait and see. There's no point looking into the doomsday scenario yet."
Following consultations on Saturday Chelsea announced that their right back would be out for eight weeks, saying in a statement, "Following the knee injury sustained in our away match against AC Milan, Reece has received treatment from the Chelsea medical department and visited a specialist this weekend.
After consultation between all parties, Reece will now undergo a rehabilitation programme and is expected to be out for eight weeks."
On his French midfielder, who has not played since the draw with Tottenham two months ago, Potter added: "Kante is due to see a consultant at the weekend. It's a setback, I can't give you any more than that."
While James' injury was a bolt from the blue, Kante has struggled for fitness in recent years and played just 45 games for club and country in 2021-22, where he missed time for six separate issues. Indeed he has played just three games for Les Bleus since the European Championships and time is running out for him to build sharpness before games kick off in Qatar next month.
"Historically there are things that have happened which we are concerned about," said Potter. "It's a setback in the last stage which is a concern. We have to try get him back to full fitness and enjoying his football."
It has since been reported by David Ornstein that Kante will miss the World Cup in its entirety and could be sidelined for up to three months, a timescale that would not only see him miss the tournament but would potentially limit his involvement in Chelsea's first games after club football's return. A lengthy absence will also prompt questions about what sort of contract, if any, the club should offer to one of their best players in recent years.
🚨 N’Golo Kante set to miss World Cup + expected to be out for ~3 months with hamstring injury suffered in training. #CFC declining to comment pending 31yo midfielder seeing specialist. Contract expires in summer @TheAthleticUK after @lequipe #WorldCup2022 https://t.co/h3XWcZ3bun— David Ornstein (@David_Ornstein) October 14, 2022
Potter added that Wesley Fofana, who is suffering with a knee injury is unlikely to feature before the World Cup.
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James' injury gives Southgate an almighty headache
The right flank was supposed to be the area where England had almost unlimited depth. Indeed, Southgate's options had reached an almost parodic level, enough that last year we could pitch an all right-back XI that didn't look all that bad on paper (not sure about Walker in goal or Tariq Lamptey up top but the rest could do you a job). It was not just about numbers either. England had quantity and quality. Make a list of the five best right backs in the world and three would probably be English. The role all of them will play in Qatar is now in doubt.
James' injury on Monday night came just days after Kyle Walker's involvement in the World Cup was thrown into doubt due to groin surgery. There remain hopes for his availability but what role he will be able to play in the whole tournament is so far unknown. Trent Alexander-Arnold is also injured but is expected to have recovered before the pause in the club season. At the end of the international break, when he was left out of the matchday squad to face Germany, there were questions over whether the Liverpool star, as disruptive a figure as the right back position has seen in a generation, would even make Gareth Southgate's squad.
If James cannot travel that might open a door for Alexander-Arnold whilst tightening Kieran Trippier's grip on a place in the 26 man party. There are other options for Southgate to continue. Arguably the best performing English full back this season, Ben White of Arsenal was overlooked for the last squad but might be an option to cover for Walker on the right side of a back three, the system that England seem to have settled on.
Plugging the wing back position might be more difficult. James has excelled in that position for Chelsea, Alexander-Arnold tends to play in a four man defense with Liverpool. One might make the case that having another defender behind him will bring out the best in the 24 year old, all too often a shadow of his club self when he dons an England shirt. But Southgate has tried and failed with Alexander-Arnold. Trippier seems to rise several levels on the international stage and if James is missing it seems eminently plausible that England will go with what they know works.