On a night of strong performances from Manchester United players at Stamford Bridge, Dan James provided the unwanted exception.
James was selected up front with Anthony Martial. It was a tactical choice clearly designed to test a Chelsea side which have conceded the joint second highest number of goals on the counter attack this season.
Chelsea were prepared for this, and instead it was two headed goals which broke the Blues down, with Martial and Harry Maguire on the scoresheet.
James struggled to get into the game, touching the ball only 22 times in 79 minutes.
There will be changes
James can consider himself a little unlucky that Martial chose to ignore him in the first half and shoot instead when he was in a better position to score.
Martial has likely been told to be a bit selfish and develop a ruthless streak. On this occasion he backed himself and shot just wide. James had the goal gaping had he just passed the ball into the centre for him.
James had success as part of a front two with Marcus Rashford at home to Liverpool in October, but this only came when he drifted wide, and whipped in a cross for his teammate to score.
Odion Ighalo is working towards full fitness and he will likely take up a starting role alongside Martial. Mason Greenwood will want his opportunity too.
James is a winger and a position as a central striker doesn’t really suit him at this stage of his career.
It’s difficult for him because the tactical shift to play three centre-backs in certain games means United are not deploying traditional wingers.
That means there’s no natural position for James and he is being pushed into a forward role he is not a true solution for.
This won’t be forever. If United do move for Jadon Sancho in the summer, expect a reverse to the previous 4-2-3-1 formation more regularly.
It will still be deployed this season too, and that’s when James has a better chance to shine.
Until then, if United want to play two strikers, Greenwood and Ighalo are superior options than the young Welshman.
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