Few Chelsea players have had as long to ponder things from the sidelines as Callum Hudson-Odoi has. Long considered one of the Stamford Bridge club’s best young prospects, the 20-year-old had started just 12 Premier League matches before Saturday’s home fixture against Norwich City.
It’s not just that Hudson-Odoi has featured as much as many would have liked, it’s that the youngster has frequently been used out of position. This is why Saturday’s game was such a big opportunity for Hudson-Odoi, with injuries to Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner forcing a reshuffle from Thomas Tuchel in the attacking third.
Deployed in his favoured position on the left side of a front three, Hudson-Odoi was one of the most impressive players on the pitch, scoring as Chelsea tightened their grip on top spot in the Premier League table with an emphatic 7-0 win over Norwich City. Substituted before the end with the points already secured, it was a 70-minute show of strength.
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Interestingly, this was the most fluid Premier League performance Chelsea have produced all season. Lukaku’s £98m signing from Inter looked to have given Tuchel’s team the cutting edge they lacked at times last term, but questions have been asked over how the Blues are using the Belgian. With Lukaku sidelined, this was much more like it.
Of course, it was Werner’s absence that truly opened up a spot in Tuchel’s XI for Hudson-Odoi to fill. The German’s role for Chelsea this season has been to stretch the pitch and create space for others. This was something Hudson-Odoi did to great effect against Norwich, but he showed a better final product than is customary from Werner.
Indeed, the way Hudson-Odoi opened up his body and foot to guide a finish into the far corner of Tim Krul’s net after being released in behind the opposition defence showed all that the 20-year-old offers Chelsea. There was also a lot of fluid interchange play with Kai Havertz and Mason Mount, who netted a hat-trick.
Tuchel hasn’t always been Hudson-Odoi’s biggest fan, at least not on the basis of his public comments about the winger. The Chelsea manager sounded exasperated when asked whether Saturday’s match might be a chance for the youngster to catch his attention and cement a place in the first team.
“The only person who can decide this and answer this question is Callum,” Tuchel said.
"It’s as easy as that. Is there a turning point? OK, he needs to prove it. He needs to play the next 250 games on the highest level and then that was the turning point. But is it a turning point if he does a brilliant match tomorrow? No.
It’s only a turning point if he makes it a turning point - and only if he does not only do one good match, one good half, 60 good minutes, but if he does it consistently. It’s as easy as that with every player.
It appears Hudson-Odoi still has some work to do to truly convince Tuchel he deserves a consistent place in the Chelsea XI, certainly once Lukaku and Werner return, but a few more performances like the one he produced against Norwich City would surely change the German’s mind.
Gareth Southgate was at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to watch Chelsea’s English core thrive with Ben Chilwell, Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Mount all scoring. While Tuchel has undoubtedly lifted standards at Chelsea since his appointment in January, the groundwork Frank Lampard put in as manager still remains.
Hudson-Odoi has the natural talent to follow his England international team-mates in becoming a key figure for Chelsea, but he must make the most of the opportunities injuries have presented him with. As Tuchel suggests, one good match won’t be enough to push him up the pecking order. Hudson-Odoi must make this the start of something bigger.
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