Reece James has opened up on his recent struggles with injury, telling Chelsea fans he "has not felt this good in a long time".
The right-back missed 25 games last season and 20 across the previous campaign, and he has only just returned from nearly three months out with a hamstring injury.
James, who was promoted to Chelsea captain this summer, now has six appearances to his name this season but is yet to play a full 90 minutes, with manager Mauricio Pochettino keeping a firm eye on his workload after such a lengthy battle with injury. The defender regularly reports on his condition during matches to ensure no unnecessary risks are taken/
"There are times you feel things, but all you want to do is play," James told Chelsea media. "Then you push and realise something has happened. My body gave me a warning, but I didn’t listen. I’m more aware now when something is screaming, slow down a bit.
"I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I definitely feel my strength and fitness building up again. Recently, I’ve been able to play consistently. I haven’t been able to play 90 minutes yet, but I’m training and playing hard, and pushing the limits every day to get back to my best level.
"I’m happy to be helping the team again as well. After almost three months out, it takes a while to build back up and find your form again. Some people think as soon as you come back you should instantly be at the level you left at, but it doesn’t work like that.
"You have to move slow and steady. That’s what I have been doing. I’m slowly progressing."
- LISTEN TO THE LATEST EPISODE OF 90MIN'S TALKING TRANSFERS PODCAST: JAMES' CHELSEA FUTURE, OSIMHEN LATEST, MAN UTD TAKEOVER UPDATE & MORE
James' return to fitness has coincided with a massive upturn in form for Chelsea, who have two wins and a draw from his three starts. The Blues beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 and battled to an enthralling 4-4 draw with Manchester City, having also advanced in the Carabao Cup at Blackburn Rovers' expense.
"We’re still a fairly new group. The more time we spend with each other the more understanding we have. That helps us. We have come a long way," James reflected.
"Our performances in the past five or six weeks have picked up. Everyone is happy around the place. Our confidence is growing. Results help that. It’s the starting point. When we’re performing well as a team people are going to try more things and look more confident.
"We’ve had a tough run of games, and we’ve picked up some good points. We have stepped up. We need to keep building on this now."