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20. Callum Hudson-Odoi


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Explained: Hudson-Odoi’s lack of game time and why he might be better on the left

https://theathletic.com/2577647/2021/05/11/explained-hudson-odois-lack-of-game-time-and-why-he-might-be-better-on-the-left/

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With a mischievous push and gentle headlock, Thomas Tuchel was clearly feeling in a playful mood toward Callum Hudson-Odoi following Chelsea’s win at Manchester City.

After Chelsea’s head coach was caught on camera speaking intensely at the youngster on the pitch for a few seconds, the duo headed toward the tunnel with smiles on their faces. Hudson-Odoi had just enjoyed a nice cameo off the bench, playing a key role in the winning goal. No wonder he was sought out for some special treatment.

It was a nice moment between the pair, which was quickly highlighted and celebrated by the club’s fans on social media. But in truth, life for Hudson-Odoi under Tuchel has been no laughing matter of late.

Tuchel has been rightly lauded for getting Chelsea to a Champions League final, an FA Cup final and up to third place in the Premier League. It is hard to find fault with his team selections. However, the way Hudson-Odoi has fallen out of favour during this run is both surprising and alarming.

No one in the Chelsea squad has experienced a greater fall from grace in such a short period. At the last international break in March, Hudson-Odoi had made an encouraging 13 appearances (one more than Mason Mount) since the former Paris Saint-Germain boss replaced Frank Lampard two months earlier. The 20-year-old’s 736 minutes was the eighth highest in the squad.

But it has been a completely different story over the last 11 fixtures. As the table below shows, only three players (not including third-choice keeper Willy Caballero) — Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham and Emerson — have had less game time.

 

Fewest minutes since international break
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There is an important distinction to make here. Giroud, Abraham and Emerson had already become accustomed to not being first-team regulars under Tuchel. What makes Hudson-Odoi’s situation so striking is he has gone from one extreme to the other so quickly.

The inevitable response is to ask why and question whether anything untoward has happened behind the scenes. Regarding the latter, The Athletic understands nothing bad of note has taken place. The pair have a good relationship. Hudson-Odoi enjoys the head coach’s training methods and it is believed Tuchel values the 20-year-old highly.

Speak to some sources around the camp and they will question his work rate in training at times. It is believed to have been a factor in why Lampard didn’t start him too regularly.

Those inside the club suggest his body language can sometimes give the wrong impression and perhaps he needs an occasional “kick up the backside”. But then, he is always going to struggle to match the intensity of someone like Mount, who takes pride in chasing after every ball. They play in different areas of the pitch too so the demands aren’t quite the same.

Still, it wouldn’t be fair to paint him as lacking effort either. Hudson-Odoi has worked hard over the past year to improve his tracking back. It is understood he is doing extra things outside of Chelsea to get in even better physical condition and is spending hours studying video clips of Neymar and Ronaldinho, looking for ways to improve. This is hardly the sign of an individual with a bad attitude or living in a comfort zone.

So what else could it be? Well, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Tuchel has primarily chosen to use Hudson-Odoi in a new position as a right wing-back. To begin with, he just had competition from Reece James for the role. But as the stakes got higher and the opposition tougher, captain Cesar Azpilicueta became increasingly used there instead of as a right-sided centre-back.

Given Hudson-Odoi’s inexperience in that spot, especially defensively, it is understandable why Tuchel turned instead to natural full-backs Azpilicueta and James to face Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively in high-profile fixtures.

Yet one would have thought there were other contests he could have been involved in from the start, such as Brighton and Fulham. Given Hudson-Odoi was in the first XI for Chelsea’s biggest win under Tuchel so far — the 4-1 victory over Crystal Palace, where he provided an assist for Kai Havertz — one might have expected that would carry some favour.

Another problem is there is so much competition for the attacking roles. With Havertz back to full fitness, Tuchel has plenty of options further up the pitch in the 3-4-2-1 system. There is also Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Mount, Giroud and Abraham in contention.

At Manchester City on Saturday, Hudson-Odoi had the rare opportunity to play in attack after replacing Ziyech. When Tuchel was addressing him in front of the TV cameras afterwards, it is understood he was full of praise and suggesting this was the kind of football he wanted to see him play more often. However, is it any surprise he thrived more as a forward rather than when he’s had to worry about the defensive responsibilities as a right wing-back?

Since he progressed through the academy, it is well known his best position is as a left winger. Three of his five goals and two of his five assists this season have come from playing there. That return came under Lampard. He has had only two brief run-outs as a substitute on that flank following Tuchel’s arrival. What could he do if he had five or six games in a row there? At this rate, we will never know. Just look at his average positions for 2020-21 here:

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His end product in this campaign compares favourably with the previous two, despite the turmoil caused by playing in a variety of places and with a change in management coming halfway through.

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As the table demonstrates, his goal return is better (one goal in every five games) than last season, even though the xG of the quality of his chances is lower (predicts one goal every 10 appearances). He is still taking a similar number of shots and the expected assists (xA) works out as creating chances worthy of an assist once every four to five games. When you bear in mind these statistics have been affected by him playing deeper over the last three months, it is a reason to be positive.

Some will argue it is still not enough and perhaps Tuchel feels this way too. One only has to look at how the German made Hudson-Odoi the fall guy for the 1-1 draw at Southampton, when he substituted him 31 minutes after bringing him on, to see how unsatisfied the Chelsea coach has been.

Expectations have been high on Hudson-Odoi’s shoulders from the moment he rejected a lucrative move to Bayern Munich and signed a five-year deal worth an initial £120,000 a week in 2019. It’s worth remembering Tuchel wanted to sign him that summer for PSG too. Yet few seem to take the serious achilles injury he suffered earlier that year into consideration or that he’s still young — two years younger than Mount, in fact.

Unlike Mount and other academy graduates in the senior squad, he hasn’t had the benefit of going elsewhere on loan to learn his trade. Every appearance has been under the intense pressure of playing for Chelsea. Naturally, he wouldn’t have it any other way, but inconsistency is the norm under all these conditions.

Clearly, regular football is important for someone of this age and he will certainly be hoping to improve on his recent tally of 113 minutes in the final matches. Starts in the FA Cup final and Champions League final are now obviously rather unlikely, but with a top-four finish looking good, outings versus Arsenal, Leicester and Aston Villa should be a possibility.

It would be in Chelsea’s and Tuchel’s best interests to get more playing time into his legs. High-profile clubs across Europe are increasingly monitoring the situation in case Hudson-Odoi gets frustrated with life at Stamford Bridge.

The fun pep talk at Manchester City suggests Chelsea don’t have to worry too much on that score just yet. But Hudson-Odoi surely won’t keep responding to Tuchel with a smile if he continues to be left out of the side.

 

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Marcos Alonso to Hudson-Odoi: “Bayern Munich? We are Chelsea, another great team, the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world, I don’t know why someone would go to Bayern Munich” Ha

Callum Hudson-Odoi has more assists in 59 minutes than Willian has since October.

At last a manager speaking clearly, straight and not dodging questions.  

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 It hurts to think what this lad could have been if he didn't suffer that bullshit injury. He was something special. Now... seems like a slightly above average winger. 😥

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4 hours ago, DDA said:

 It hurts to think what this lad could have been if he didn't suffer that bullshit injury. He was something special. Now... seems like a slightly above average winger. 😥

His problem seems to be more about attitude/mentality than anything else. 

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4 hours ago, Jas said:

His problem seems to be more about attitude/mentality than anything else. 

Yh true but he has definitely lost pace and agility post injury.

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