Super sub becomes the main attraction
THE SKY did not fall, the Thames did not run dry and volcanoes did not rise from the pitch. Indeed, Callum Hudson-Odoi (below) was given a Premier League start by Maurizio Sarri and the world did not end. Who knows exactly what Sarri’s fear has been all this time? He’s tried to explain it all before, of course, going over the theories of careful development and how next season it will be different. But the persistent thought last night was the same one that has cropped up repeatedly on the lesser occasions of the cups — that this guy needs to play. Give him a chance, stop the heel-kicking on the bench and let him loose in a competition that matters. Then watch this 18-year-old go. And how he went. The best player on the pitch? Possibly. He certainly was in the first half. Just ask Anthony Knockaert, who was substituted in to the game in the 31st minute and immediately looked ready to sit back down, all because of a player who needed to wait until April to be trusted with a league start. The same trick did for Knockaert twice in about 10 minutes — the body leaned left, the feet went right and rapid from there to the byline for a cross. In the first instance, he made a good chance for Cesar Azpilicueta and in the second he made the opener for Olivier Giroud. If this team can look predictable under Sarri for its tendency to channel so much through Jorginho, then it was a delightful antidote to see Hudson-Odoi on the ball. But there was far more — in one defensive contribution he stopped Solly March and later he pulled off a great slide to rob Yves Bissouma. He was good all round, but that lock-picking in attack is the lure to folk like Bayern Munich. On that front, how telling that in a game against deep-lying opposition, with 11 Brighton men behind the ball, it was Hudson-Odoi who broke the backline. There were some errors, obviously. It most definitely wasn’t a clear demonstration of why he should be in this side for every game. But no one is arguing for that, just that this academy player gets a good chance. Certainly it hasn’t helped Sarri’s case with the fans that it has taken this long. Even before you factor in his winger’s performance here, including Hudson-Odoi in the team was good PR. The Stamford Bridge support have used the teenager’s continued absence as another stick with which to beat the manager, and in one selection for this game he helped stem a narrative. As a strong-willed manager, that was hardly a pressing requirement in his mind. But it is a bonus nonetheless, as is the belated proof that Hudson-Odoi is up to the task in the Premier League.