In a dominant night of football, Chelsea dismissed Malmo 0-1 away from home in the Champions League.
The win gives the defending European champions nine points and, should Juventus beat Zenit St. Petersburg later and ensure the Russians remain on three, all but assures them of a place in the round of 16. The Blues would need just a point from their remaining two games, one of which is against Zenit, to book passage into the knockout rounds.
While the result wasn’t anywhere near as dominant as the 4-0 smashing at Stamford Bridge, the performance was still positive given the lengthy injury list currently plagueing the Blues. It was especially notable because of two standout performances from two youth products.
Chelsea’s youth system is the most prodigious in the country and their graduates are currently lighting up Premier League grounds besides Stamford Bridge. Just look at Southampton and Crystal Palace to see teams that have benefitted from the Blues’ largesse, not to mention AC Milan and AS Roma who signed Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham, respectively.
But not all Blues’ youngsters were loaned out, the most notable of which are long-suffering Ruben Loftus-Cheek and the mercurial Callum Hudson-Odoi. These double-barrelled dynamos have failed to live up to their immense potentials and while Hudson-Odoi is still very young, he was wanted as a teenager by Bayern Munich and further, Loftus-Cheek is 25 years-old!
Whatever the reason for their troubles, however, we saw against Malmo how both men can contribute significantly to Chelsea’s campaign both on the domestic front but equally and perhaps moreso in Europe as the Blues look to become the first English side to retain the Champions League since Nottingham Forest did it in 1980.
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Hudson-Odoi is a dynamic wing presence who has fallen out of favour due to the 3-4-2-1 system that is favoured by Thomas Tuchel. He had a brief run at wing-back but it’s clear that Tuchel prefers to use Reece James or Cesar Azpilicueta in that role.
In Sweden, Hudson-Odoi started as a left-forward in the front three and while he looked bright, he wasn’t effective. Half-time brought a tactical switch from Tuchel and Hudson-Odoi switched to the right.
Now on his orthodox side, Hudson-Odoi could spring forward to deliver early service into the box. And that’s just what he did 10 minutes into the second-half. A flick to Kai Havertz was followed by him sprinting into space and when Havertz released him, Hudson-Odoi didn’t try and overcomplicate it as he does on the left and just put in a picture-perfect cross into the box. The ball streaked across the face of goal and led to a tap-in for Hakim Ziyech.
Glenn Hoddle was full of praise for the ball; “that is a cross made in heaven. That is PERFECT. [The] last defender can’t get it, keeper can’t get it. It really is top quality. It’s just saying ‘put me in the back of the net please.'” And you have to say, he was right. The only goal of the game, created by Hudson-Odoi. A decisive contribution for the young winger and a sign that, if played on his orthodox right side, he could offer the Blues some deadly service into the box, especially when their stud striker Romelu Lukaku returns.
While Hudson-Odoi helped decide the result, the performance ran through Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The former youngster and current misfit has never really managed to find his best form in Chelsea blue, but an injury crisis in midfield is seeing him get a chance, and on the evidence of the Malmo match, it’s a chance he’s taking with both hands.
Loftus-Cheek was phenomenal in Sweden. All of Chelsea’s best play ran through him before getting to the forwards. The midfielder had the joint-most shots for Chelsea in the game (4), the second-most chances created (3), one of which absolutely should have been a goal for Kai Havertz only for the German to scuff his finish.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek's game by numbers vs. Malmo:
30 passes in final third
14 duels won (most)
8 final third entries
7 take-ons completed (most)
7 touches in the opp. box
4 aerial duels won (most)
3 chances created
3 possession won
Dominant in midfield. pic.twitter.com/NcxNT0Ewme
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 2, 2021
And while he will never come close to offering the defensive power N’Golo Kanté does, he can replicate and even surpass the ball-carrying that Kanté brings to the team. Tonight against Malmo, Loftus-Cheek dominated the duels. He completed 7/8 take-ons, constantly blowing by the Malmo midfielders and getting the ball into really dangerous areas. Moreover he was great in the air, winning 4/6 aerial duels.
Loftus-Cheek was truly magnificent in Malmo, and showed that even when everyone is fit, this one-time prodigy might still be worth a starting spot in games against more defensive opponents. The sheer size and skill he brings is a mismatch with most midfielders and gives the Blues a massive advantage in that zone. And this colossal Chelsea side with yet another advantage is something to fear indeed.