Last September, we showed you a video Callum Hudson-Odoi doing some neat tricks and skills with a ball. Then 16, we said he was primed to be the next Chelsea star.
Now 17, the London native is again showing why he can be the next Chelsea star — only this time it’s not on a rainy practice pitch with no defenders around him, it’s against some of the biggest clubs in the world.
Callum Hudson-Odoi is an exciting young winger for new Blues coach Maurizio Sarri. The question is: Can Hudson-Odoi be an impact player this season or is he just one for the future?
Based on Chelsea’s preseason warm-ups, he appears to be ready for the big time.
Callum Hudson-Odoi doesn’t have much in the way of Premier League experience so far, which isn’t surprising given he won’t turn 18 until November. He’s appeared in two league matches for a grand total of 27 minutes. He also has two brief FA Cup appearances. But he has played 24 times at the youth level for England, scoring six goals throughout the ranks and helping the Three Lions to the U-17 World Cup title last October.
In preseason, Hudson-Odoi has made it clear to Sarri he deserves a spot in the regular rotation.
Hudson-Odoi set up the winner for Pedro against Perth Glory in Australia and put forth a strong performance against Inter Milan in Nice. But his strongest showing of the summer came against Arsenal on Wednesday, when he drew a penalty and burned Arsenal speedster Hector Bellerin for pace.
— Football INDEX (@FootballIndexUK) August 2, 2018
Hudson-Odoi terrorized Arsenal’s right flank and probably should have scored in the 42nd minute. He set up a number of great chances for teammates and was lively for all 85 minutes he was on the pitch.
While this was just a preseason friendly, the Gunners started an XI that is close to what Unai Emery will likely choose when the season opens against Manchester City on Aug. 12.
The difficult part for Hudson-Odoi is finding a way into a squad that already includes Eden Hazard and Willian. Assuming they aren't sold, those two will likely be Sarri’s first-choice wingers whenever they’re available. Pedro, Victor Moses, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ross Barkley and Tammy Abraham are just a few of the other players who could also be competing for playing time in similar positions. But with Chelsea in the Europa League this year, Hudson-Odoi would be a strong option for Thursday night matches if Sarri wants to rest his normal starters.
Hudson-Odoi will also need to show consistency. A few standout performances in preseason means nothing if he can’t string together the type of form Sarri will demand of his charges. Indeed, Chelsea right back César Azpilicueta said it’s the teenager’s biggest challenge for the upcoming season.
“Callum has shown great quality and character and now it is up to him to keep that level,” Azpilicueta told the Guardian. “I am sure if he keeps doing the things he’s doing at the moment and working the way he is doing for the team, he will be very important for the team. It’s something he has in his hands.”
But the youngster might be just what Chelsea needs this season after a disappointing fifth-place finish led to Antonio Conte's departure just a year after winning the Premier League.
While Hazard and Willian will be the likely starters for most matches, Hudson-Odoi gives Sarri an exciting option off the bench, someone who isn’t afraid to take on defenders one-on-one and can make things happen against teams who defend deep in their own halves. The Blues scored the fewest goals of any of the top six clubs last season and could use a little variety.
Callum Hudson-Odoi should have at least one more chance to show Sarri what he can do in Sunday’s Community Shield match against Manchester City. With Hazard and Willian unlikely to play, the local 17-year-old will have his best opportunity to make his case to be a major part of the 2018-19 Chelsea squad.