Opinion: James, Hudson-Odoi, Chalobah... Chelsea academy graduates becoming driving force behind their season
Academy graduates Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Trevoh Chalobah all scored in Chelsea's 4-0 win over Juventus in the Champions League. The pathway between the academy and the first team has finally been established at Stamford Bridge and Thomas Tuchel's team are benefiting as they target silverware.
'Everybody loves it' - Tuchel hails 'another excellent day for Chelsea academy'
No club spent more over the 2020 and 2021 summer transfer windows than Chelsea. £330m was splurged on a number of world class players including Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech and Edouard Mendy with Thiago Silva also arriving as a free agent.
This business gave the Blues one of the strongest squads in all of European football and played a key role in turning Chelsea into Champions League winners. However, the club’s academy is becoming the driving force behind their 2021/22 season, demonstrated by Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Juventus.
Three of the four goals netted against the Italian giants were scored by Cobham graduates - Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi. For all the expensive stars on the pitch, it was Chelsea’s homegrown contingent that ultimately gave them the victory needed to secure their passage through to the Champions League last 16.
It wasn’t like this was an isolated case either. Chelsea have scored 27 goals in all competitions since the start of October and 12 of them have been contributed by academy graduates with Mason Mount, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen all important members of Tuchel’s squad.
For years, Chelsea’s unwillingness to make use of their own academy baffled. Cobham had a reputation as one of the most prolific talent factories in the sport, with graduates at all levels of European football, but there was no pathway between the academy and the first team at Stamford Bridge. Times have changed, though.
Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori might be in Serie A, Tariq Lamptey may be a Brighton player, but there is still a homegrown core underpinning Chelsea’s squad. Without them, Tuchel’s squad wouldn’t have such depth. He wouldn’t have so many options and the ability to rotate so freely between competitions.
James in particular has been Chelsea’s best, most consistent performer of the season so far. The 21-year-old has been in hot form of late with four goals and three assists in his last eight appearances. In fact, James is currently Chelsea’s top scorer (five goals), illustrating just how effective he is as an outlet on the right side.
Reece James of Chelsea celebrates after scoring their side's second goal during the UEFA Champions League group H match between Chelsea FC and Juventus at Stamford Bridge
Image credit: Getty Images
Hudson-Odoi is flourishing with injuries to Romelu Lukaku and Werner giving him the chance to perform in his favoured position on the left side of a front three. Talk of a transfer to the Bundesliga has finally dissipated with the winger giving Chelsea a direct outlet to stretch the pitch and offer a goal threat.
Then there’s Chalobah, the surprise success story of Chelsea’s season so far. The 22-year-old has made himself a key member of Tuchel’s defence on the right side of the back three with the German coach granting him the freedom to get forward whenever the shape allows him to. Chalobah is tailor-made for the role.
Tuesday’s victory over Juventus showcased Chelsea at their fluid best. The Italian visitors were dominated from start to finish and struggled to cope with the movement of the reigning European champions in the attacking third. And this was with Lukaku still sidelined through injury.
In this form, it could be argued that Chelsea are better, more potent without Lukaku, their £98m frontman. While Tuchel admitted before the Belgian’s injury that his team were struggling to accommodate their summer signing, Chelsea appear more comfortable with Havertz or even Christian Pulisic leading the line.
Chelsea might well be the most complete team in European football right now with Tuchel in full control of his squad. The Blues are capable of playing in a number of different ways to get results, but it’s the academy graduates rather than the expensive imports that are proving most valuable.