Callum Hudson-Odoi has had a busy 2019, dealing with transfer rumours, a long-term injury and contract talks.
The year started with Hudson-Odoi being linked to Bayern Munich amid a lack of playing time for Chelsea, leading to the teenager handing in a transfer request.
But Chelsea held firm and Hudson-Odoi was handed more opportunities by then-manager Maurizio Sarri as the season went on, becoming a key member for the Blues. That was until he picked up an ankle injury in a Premier League draw with Burnley in April, which would rule him out until September – ruining any hopes of a Europa League final appearance or England call up.
Despite his injury, Hudson-Odoi was still subject to Bayern’s interests but the arrival of Frank Lampard as new Chelsea manager allayed some fears and a new five-year deal was signed in September.
The new contract came just days after Hudson-Odoi made his return to action for Chelsea’s U23 team, assisting Henry Lawrence’s goal in a 2-1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at Stamford Bridge. Another U23 appearance came, this time with a goal against Southampton, before Hudson-Odoi was trusted to make the step up to first-team action.
A Carabao Cup third-round tie against Grimsby Town was the perfect opportunity and Hudson-Odoi scored in the 7-1 thrashing but not many could have expected the teenager to make a direct impact in his next four games.
Not wanting to rush Hudson-Odoi, Lampard started the teenager on the bench for Chelsea’s next Premier League game against Brighton, bringing him on with less than 30 minutes remaining.
Eager to pick up from where he left off, Hudson-Odoi assisted Willian to confirm the three points for Chelsea, their first league home victory of the season.
Four days later, another substitute cameo, this time against Lille in the Champions League, brought a second assist to Willian. His cameo performances were enough to earn Hudson-Odoi a first league start of the season in Chelsea’s 4-1 away win over Southampton.
A third assist in three games across all competitions followed as Hudson-Odoi played a beautiful long ball to Tammy Abraham for the Englishman’s chipped finish, one of three chances created by the teenager that day.
Following the international break, Hudson-Odoi was handed yet another Premier League start for Chelsea, joining Willian and Abraham as the attacking trio to face Newcastle United – picked by Lampard ahead of Christian Pulisic. And the Englishman was excellent.
He was a constant thorn in DeAndre Yedlin’s side, beating the American with his dribbling and passing abilities, creating five chances before being taken off in injury time – more than any other player.
And it was he who provided the crucial assist for Marcos Alonso’s winner, showing the awareness to play the ball out to the left-back when some might have shot. A third assist, Hudson-Odoi is now Chelsea’s top creator in the Premier League, despite playing just 196 minutes.
The assist also made Hudson-Odoi the second youngest player in Premier League history to assist in three consecutive appearances, doing so at the age of 18 years and 346 days. Only Michael Owen in January 1998 achieved that feat younger than Hudson-Odoi, doing it aged 18 years and 27 days.
Among the rest of the Premier League players to have set up more than one goal, Hudson-Odoi has the best minutes per assist ratio, averaging one every 65.33 minutes. His closest rival is Kevin De Bruyne who averages an assist every 77.5 minutes, while only Matej Vydra and Michy Batshuayi have a better average altogether with their sole assists coming in 19 and 45 minutes of action respectively.
But, according to Chelsea manager Lampard, there is still room for Hudson-Odoi to improve.
“I thought he was good, really good,” he told reporters after Chelsea’s win over Newcastle.
“I agree. In terms of product on the wing and taking people on. He looked sharp, getting at people. A big threat. I am really pleased with that.
“The end product will come even more with Callum, another young player. So coming inside and getting his shots away, he was giving them a big problem so it was great to see and for the fans to see. Callum needs to carry on doing that.”
Since making his Premier League debut under Antonio Conte on January 31, 2018, Hudson-Odoi has made 15 appearances, creating 18 chances and recording four assists. But the teenager is still awaiting his first goal, taking just 12 shots in total, five of which have hit the target.
Lampard also touched on Hudson-Odoi’s defensive contributions, adding: “There is the other side of the game, off the ball. He knows that he can get better at that, and he will do. There are glimpses today of some of the special stuff he has got.”
Hudson-Odoi and Chelsea fans have heard these comments before, with former boss Sarri constantly quoting the teenager’s defensive vulnerabilities as reasons behind his lack of playing time last season.
“With the ball, he is a very good player,” Sarri said at the start of 2019.
“He has to improve in movements without the ball. He has to improve in the defensive phase.”
If Hudson-Odoi can improve in the defensive phase and add goals to his game, the teenager will quickly become a must-start player for Lampard’s Chelsea.
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