Comment and Analysis @PeteHall86
Is Chelsea youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi in line for full Premier League debut?
Last Updated: 06/04/18 12:08pm
Antonio Conte may be tempted to blood some Chelsea youngsters against West Ham on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, as a top-four finish becomes more unlikely, with 17-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi primed for a first Premier League start.
The talented teenager, born in November 2000, came on as a late substitute in last weekend's defeat at Tottenham, but as the season approaches its climax, should Tottenham continue to stay well clear in fourth, Conte could make Hudson-Odoi the latest starlet born this millennium to earn a Premier League start.
Unhappy at the lack of signings at Chelsea in the summer, Conte hasn't been afraid to play a youngster to make a statement to the board. Even for the season opener against Burnley, with Chelsea looking to get their title defence off to a positive start, Conte played Jeremie Boga from the start. Boga joined Birmingham soon after the Burnley defeat.
Hudson-Odoi has two Premier League appearances to his name already, both as substitute, as well as two FA Cup substitute appearances, but his time may be about to come as a starter. In his 25 minutes in Chelsea's 3-0 defeat to Bournemouth at the end of January, Hudson-Odoi completed five dribbles - second only to Eden Hazard, who completely nine in 90 minutes. He also had two shots, with one on target.
Having joined the club at U8s level, Hudson-Odoi is a Chelsea boy through and through and his progression is a sign of the growing strength of the Blues' academy. He even played for Chelsea's U18s as a 15-year-old.
It is clear that Chelsea appreciate his talents and understand how much potential he has, as they tied him down to a three-year contract over the summer to fight off interest from a host of top European clubs
That faith seems justified as this season really has seen Hudson-Odio's ascension take flight. Hudson-Odio is already a World Cup winner, having played a key role in England U17s' World Cup success in October, all while continuing to dazzle for Chelsea's U18s.
At just 16, Hudson-Odoi was promoted to Chelsea's U23 side and scored four times in just three games during the Checkatrade Trophy campaign, which saw Chelsea fall short in the semi-final in February.
Again Chelsea are honing in on another FA Youth Cup success - what would be their fifth successive crown - and at the heart of their attacking flamboyance is Hudson-Odoi. The timing of his fine goal in the semi-final first-leg victory over Birmingham on Wednesday could not have been better. He is not shorn of faith in his own abilities, either.
"Obviously I have had to be patient because I'm still young, but when I got my debut, that's when I knew it was my time to come on the pitch, do what I do, make an impact and show I'm ready," Hudson-Odoi said earlier in the season.
Conte clearly thinks highly of the youngster. The 17-year-old was on the bench in arguably Chelsea's biggest game of the season in Barcelona in March, and not allowed to take part in the UEFA Youth League due to first-team commitments.
Alvaro Morata is likely to get the nod up front on Sunday after getting back on scoresheet against Tottenham, but Willian and Eden Hazard are due a rest, having shouldered much of the creative burden in wide positions - Hudson Odoi could slot in on either side of the front three, making the most of his penetrative dribbling prowess.
Aside from the emergence of Andreas Christensen this campaign, Chelsea have not brought a youngster through their ranks to become a regular fixture in the first team since John Terry. It remains to be seen whether Hudson-Odoi has what it takes to make a starting berth his own, but that time to shine cannot be far off if he continues to impress. Sunday could be that moment.
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