There was a moment during the first half of Saturday’s 3-1 over Southampton that prompted a shared noise of excitement from the Stamford Bridge faithful.
After receiving a pass on the left wing from an onrushing Ben Chilwell, Callum Hudson-Odoi elegantly back-heeled the ball into Chilwell surging forward. The victim of this brilliant piece of skill was Tino Livramento, a youth product who was part of a summer exodus of talent looking elsewhere for a brighter future.
It would not have been unreasonable to see Hudson-Odoi join that exodus given the lack of consistent opportunities he had at Stamford Bridge in his favoured role.
Though Saturday’s positive development has added new optimism into the narrative of the winger at Chelsea which was increasingly becoming a stale and predictable story.
Fielded in his more natural left-wing spot in Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1, rather than the right-sided wingback role he has become accustomed to under the German, Hudson-Odoi was finally able to show his full capability in a place he has so rarely found available since breaking through the club’s academy.
In the first half, he added speed to an attack that had looked lethargic in the previous two defeats against Manchester City and Juventus, there was a sense Hudson-Odoi was relishing the rare chance to showcase his best talent and apart from some neat showboating to brighten up a rainy day, his direct running and effective moment with wing-back Chilwell has certainly provided his coach with a conundrum following the international break.
There were positive signs of encouragement from Tuchel on the touchline watching closely. Notably praising him for being combative and winning some physical battles against a tenacious Southampton side.
This is an improvement from Tuchel’s demeanour towards the 20-year-old against Aston Villa in September where he consistently showed frustration with the flaws in Hudson-Odoi’s performance.
He was a key tempo setter for Chelsea in an energised first-half which could have seen the Blues go into the break 3-0 up if it wasn’t for an offside flag on Romelu Lukaku and Mike Dean rewinding to last year to flag up an unclear and not obvious error.
The controversial VAR intervention which angered the home faithful not only robbed Timo Werner of a much-needed goal but also for Hudson-Odoi an assist to top off a bright half of football which demonstrated the talent which has been so underutilized.
We don’t need to tread over very old ground here with Hudson-Odoi, and I have personally made my feelings clear why a loan would have been preferable for his development. But it was nice to just have something new to discuss with the fringe figure.
What Saturday’s performance provides Tuchel with is proof of why he wanted to keep the English attacker around, but also evidence that using him in a more advanced role can offer something which has been missing over recent weeks.
Hudson-Odoi is a player hungry to succeed and motivated to make it at his boyhood club despite the many obstacles in his path. Even if some of us seem pessimistic over his chances at Chelsea, Hudson-Odoi certainly looks like a man on a mission to grasp his chance. Now – as it has been before – it’s on Tuchel to demonstrate a meritocracy which at times has been missing.
The last time Hudson-Odoi played in his favoured role against Everton in March, he was inexplicably out of the team five days later away to Leeds in a 0-0 draw. After coming off the bench against Manchester City in April in a right-wing role and positively impacting the game, playing the key pass that unlocked City’s defence for Marcos Alonso’s last-minute winner, he again was on the bench against Arsenal three days later.
If Hudson-Odoi is again out of the team for the Brentford game and forced back into an unnatural position for sporadic chances, you cannot help but wonder if there is anything more he can do to change his standing in the current squad.
Tuchel was asked about Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz who were both unused substitutes at the weekend and responded in a tone that did not indicate either merited minutes following recent underwhelming displays.
“That may not even be their fault it’s just like this at the moment. They struggle at the moment to be decisive. But we had a period after pre-season when Kai and Hakim were very decisive for us.
“They have maybe lost a bit of belief, confidence, whatever. We will not stop trying to boost them. Nobody is angry at them and nobody has major concerns, but we have to pay attention to the actual form.”
This should give Hudson-Odoi hope he can gain more minutes over underperforming peers in games the Blues are expected to dominate.
A few more positive outings and the picture for the winger in west London will look extremely different and supporters will have reason to let out more gasps of excitement rather than exasperated sighs.
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Source by Football London