Hud­son-Odoi and Mo­rata send a mes­sage to Sarri

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - MIGUEL DE­LANEY

ADAY that is sup­posed to be about all lev­els of English foot­ball com­ing to­gether, and one of the world’s aged stars emo­tion­ally de­part­ing this stage, ended up re­volv­ing around one of Europe’s most ex­pen­sive play­ers and a young­ster who may well as­cend to such lev­els.

The highly sought-af­ter Cal­lum Hud­son-Odoi helped Al­varo Mo­rata over­come some dread­ful early prob­lems to score twice for his first goals since Novem­ber, and help their side over­come Cesc Fabre­gas’s un­for­tu­nately-timed early penalty miss, to beat Nottingham For­est in the FA Cup third round.

Luke Steele’s save from that spot-kick wasn’t the only el­e­ment that slightly spoiled what is ex­pected to be the Span­ish mid­fielder’s farewell, as Ruben Lof­tus-Cheek also went off in­jured and in tears in the first half. There were tears for a dif­fer­ent rea­son from Fabre­gas as he was brought off in the 86th minute for a stand­ing ova­tion from the crowd.

Named cap­tain for the day, he is ex­pected to join Monaco — and his old team-mate Thierry Henry — in this win­dow. The futures of Hud­son-Odoi and Mo­rata are much less clear, mak­ing their dou­ble act all the more pointed.

They ended up look­ing so fluid to­gether, and such an ob­vi­ous fit, that maybe Mau­r­izio Sarri should look to this more for a team badly lack­ing in flow or even life of late. It also helped that Mo­rata was fi­nally play­ing with a winger who was ac­tu­ally will­ing to pro­vide proper crosses for him. Hud­son-Odoi fi­nally got an­other game, at a time when Chelsea have just an­nounced a huge new sign­ing for one of his po­si­tions in Chris­tian Pulisic. The man­ager thereby got a per­for­mance.

To be fair to the club, those are not the only rea­sons that there is spec­u­la­tion. Out of con­tract in 2020, 18-year-old Hud­son-Odoi’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives are known to be look­ing at many lu­cra­tive po­ten­tial of­fers — not least given Bay­ern Mu­nich’s clear in­ter­est — and the feel­ing from one well-placed source is that his camp “will just ac­cept the high­est bid­der”. That has seen Chelsea put a £40m ask­ing price on him. It can’t be de­nied that lim­ited play­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are part of this, though, with those fur­ther blocked off by Pulisic’s sum­mer ar­rival. This was thereby the per­fect mo­ment to flaunt the ta­lent that Sarri has al­ready said could make him one of Europe’s “most im­por­tant play­ers”, and at a time when the man­ager has been cry­ing out for an­other wide for­ward. Hud­son-Odoi twice crossed beau­ti­fully for Mo­rata, who twice, fi­nally, fin­ished well.

It has been Mo­rata’s gen­er­ally meek dis­po­si­tion as much as his strug­gles in front of goal that have seen so much spec­u­la­tion over his fu­ture, but the reality of Chelsea’s busi­ness model is that they’re never go­ing to out­right sell a player when his value is so low. They didn’t with the strug­gling Fer­nando Tor­res, send­ing him out on loan first.

It has been dif­fi­cult to deny Mo­rata has a touch of Tor­res syn­drome, and there has been re­ced­ing hope at the club he can get out of this. Team-mates have been fairly openly talk­ing about how he needs to fight much more. This dis­play might just change that a lit­tle, es­pe­cially given Mo­rata’s re­silient re­sponse to what was close to a psy­chodrama of a first half.

Within mo­ments of the game start­ing, the striker had pounced on a Luke Steele fum­ble, only to im­me­di­ately lose his foot­ing and fall. Just min­utes later he headed a glar­ing chance straight at Steele from just yards out, be­fore go­ing down when through on goal un­der pres­sure from Clau­dio Ya­cob. The striker maybe was fouled and mo­tioned for VAR, ex­cept it wasn’t be­ing used in this match. An­other miss.

The ref­eree couldn’t miss Ya­cob’s foul on Lof­tus-Cheek on the half-hour, and Fabre­gas did at least hit the tar­get from the sub­se­quent penalty. The prob­lem was his bizarrely stut­ter­ing run-up made it eas­ier for Steele to save.

It was Lof­tus-Cheek’s last mean­ing­ful ac­tion in the game. Sarri had to bring on Eden Haz­ard, who could have done with a rest. That brought a switch in at­tack, and brought the best out of Hud­son-Odoi. Now play­ing down the right, he scorched the For­est de­fence, while dis­play­ing the va­ri­ety of his tal­ents and his ar­ray of crosses. One was a low de­liv­ery for Mo­rata to one-touch fin­ish. The sec­ond was a David Beck­ham-style de­liv­ery, for Mo­rata to head in.

Both of the goals suited the striker. One was an in­stinc­tive fin­ish where he didn’t have time to think. The sec­ond played on what is best in his game, a header from be­yond 10 yards.

It cre­ates a big ar­gu­ment for Sarri to play these two to­gether, and may make Chelsea’s short-term fu­ture that much brighter, even if the fu­ture of the two play­ers is so un­clear. Fabre­gas, mean­while, is now part of club his­tory.

Chelsea striker Al­varo Mo­rata scores his sec­ond goal dur­ing yes­ter­day’s FA Cup win over Nottingham For­est at Stam­ford Bridge. Photo: Clive Rose

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