When Callum Hudson-Odoi signed a new four-year contract with Chelsea in September 2019, the young winger looked destined for a big future with his boyhood club.
Having come through the club’s academy and shown flashes of immense potential with the senior side, Chelsea were desperate to tie him down to a new deal as last year had seen Bayern Munich persistently pursue the teenager.
Chelsea are reported to have rejected at least four offers from Bayern for Hudson-Odoi in 2019, and then, having seen plenty of young homegrown talent afforded chances in the first-team at Stamford Bridge, he eventually put pen to paper.
At the time, that appeared to be the end of the story – Hudson-Odoi would surely go on to become a regular with Chelsea and become the superstar his potential suggested he could be.
But eight months on and Hudson-Odoi’s future is arguably murkier than ever. Injuries haven’t helped, but his form has been underwhelming ever since signing that contract.
Despite this, Bayern remain an interested party, with Hansi Flick acknowledging as such on Saturday. Key decisions await for Chelsea and the player – Hudson-Odoi in particular needs to work out whether he is willing to fight for his future at the club.
Below, we’ve taken a look at his performance against Palace – a game he was handed his first Premier League start of the season in – with a little help from Opta data…
It’s all over! An excellent second-half performance from the Blues secures the three points, with goals from @BenChilwell, @KurtZouma and Jorginho (2)! #CHECRY pic.twitter.com/F3cRWvThyL
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 3, 2020
Flashes of promise
Although media reports in the past 24 hours claimed Chelsea and Bayern are in talks regarding a deal for Hudson-Odoi, the winger was somewhat surprisingly picked for Saturday’s 4-0 win over Palace.
Whether Frank Lampard had been impressed with his training this week or was giving him one final chance to prove his worth is unclear, though it’s difficult to say Hudson-Odoi showed himself to be indispensable.
The scoreline masked the overall quality of the match, which for the most part was poor, but Chelsea came on strong in the second half and ultimately had too much for a Palace side that offered nothing in attack.
Hudson-Odoi certainly wasn’t anonymous – he was involved in the build-up to the opening two goals, finding Cesar Azpilicueta whose shot was blocked into Ben Chilwell’s path for the first, before then passing to the left-back as he set up Kurt Zouma to make it 2-0.
He also found Tammy Abraham with a good cross – one of his two key passes – in the second half, only for the striker to head wide from close range.
But that’s about as good as it got for Hudson-Odoi.
Happy Saturday! #CHECRY pic.twitter.com/3exDkKWtln
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 3, 2020
A passenger off the ball
Of the Chelsea starting XI, only Abraham (34) – the target man – and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy (27) had fewer touches than Hudson-Odoi, while he was also only involved in two duels.
By comparison, Kai Havertz engaged in 16 duels as he looked to assert himself both on and off the ball.
One of Hudson-Odoi’s supposed strengths is his direct dribbling and ability to beat his man, yet he failed to complete a single take-on against Tyrick Mitchell, the inexperienced Palace back-up left-back who was making just his eighth Premier League outing.
Among the few occasions he managed to get around Mitchell, using his pace, he created the aforementioned chance for Abraham. Had he tried his luck against the defender more often, perhaps Chelsea would have had more luck down that flank.
But arguably the most glaring of Hudson-Odoi’s shortcomings relates to his effectiveness when not in possession.
This is no new criticism, he has been aware of the need to improve in this respect since at least January 2019, when Maurizio Sarri said: “He has to improve in movements without the ball. He has to improve in the defensive phase.”
Lampard, too, has made similar observations and as recently and last month seemed to criticise the 19-year-old’s work rate.
Against Palace he was notable for his absence in the defensive phase – he was the only player of the Chelsea starting XI who failed to make a single tackle, clearance or interception. Even Christian Pulisic, brought on for Hudson-Odoi in the final seven minutes, attempted two tackles and made a pair of clearances.
It’s not daft to expect a player, who is seemingly fighting for his future, to perhaps increase his work rate off the ball when little is going well on it, yet that intensity was lacking from Hudson-Odoi.
Lampard insists Hudson-Odoi is “absolutely” in his plans, but whether the player wants to be is another matter.