England’s Reece James ruled out of World Cup group stage with knee injury

Reece James has been ruled out for eight weeks with a knee injury, leaving the Chelsea and England wing-back’s hopes of going to the World Cup hanging by a thread.

James went off during Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Milan at San Siro last Tuesday and the initial signs were that he had not suffered serious damage. However the 22-year-old received bad news after undergoing further tests on Thursday and is expected to be out for a significant period.

James visited a consultant on Saturday and the decision has been taken for him not to have surgery. But the right-sided player, who has been in outstanding form for club and country this season, still looks highly unlikely to go to Qatar. England’s opening group game is against Iran on 21 November.

The fact James stayed in Milan for an extra day and flew back to England on an easyJet flight on Wednesday night suggests he was not worried about the injury at first. He paid for extra legroom and it is understood that taking a budget flight did not cause any further damage.

But James is still facing up to the prospect of not going to the World Cup. Losing him would be a major blow for Gareth Southgate, who finds himself with a selection headache on the right of his defence. Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, who can play at right centre-back and right back, is a major doubt after undergoing groin surgery, and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold has an ankle problem. As it stands Kieran Trippier would be in line to start on the right against Iran.

The hope for James will be that he is able to prove he will be fit in time for the knockout stage. Having a 26-man squad gives Southgate extra wriggle room with injuries. Southgate took Harry Maguire to Euro 2020 despite him being injured for England’s first two games.

James’s absence is also a blow for Chelsea, who visit Aston Villa on Sunday. Graham Potter’s side have also lost N’Golo Kanté and Wesley Fofana to injury. A hamstring injury is set to keep Kante out for the rest of the year, meaning that the France international is out of the World Cup.

France are also likely to be out without Fofana. The £69.5m defender suffered a knee injury against Milan earlier this month.

In better news for Chelsea, Mason Mount is expected to be available against Villa after a scan on a thigh problem revealed nothing serious.