Why this season is make or break for Hudson-Odoi's Chelsea career

Cameron Smith

With Romelu Lukaku soon set to be announced as a Chelsea player, Blues fans are most definitely in a joyous mood, and optimistic of their chances this season.

The issue of a goal-scorer was apparent last year, but with the addition of the Belgian striker, that problem will almost certainly go away.

With creativity all around him, Lukaku should thrive, and one man who will be hoping to excel in helping Lukaku in the final third in 2021/22 is Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Widely regarded as a better player than Jadon Sancho when they were both academy players, Hudson-Odoi has had nowhere near the amount of success in senior football as the former Manchester City academy star.

While Sancho has just secured a mega transfer to Manchester United after three consecutive seasons of reaching double figures for goals and assists, Hudson-Odoi has only managed just 21 Premier League starts in his entire career.

Of course, there is fiercer competition at Chelsea than at Borussia Dortmund, but it's fair to say that Sancho has developed far quicker than Hudson-Odoi.

The Chelsea man started for the England senior team before he'd even managed to start in the Premier League, but he hasn't quite made the next step in his career.

Bayern Munich have come calling on several occasions, but Chelsea believe in his ability, and aren't inclined to sell.

However, after managing just 328 minutes of action in all competitions between March and the end of last season, Hudson-Odoi wasn't first-choice under Thomas Tuchel. It's perhaps not a surprise given the surplus of attacking talent at the disposal of the German, but Hudson-Odoi deserved more football.

Why does Hudson-Odoi deserve to start for Chelsea?

Not only is Hudson-Odoi a supreme talent, but he's ready for first-team action right now. Taking a look at a new metric delved into by The Athletic, expected threat (xT), Hudson-Odoi is clearly leading the Chelsea squad, as seen below, and his underlying numbers are simply superb.

Furthermore, using this metric, which analyses the likelihood of a team scoring from a certain position on the pitch, Hudson-Odoi ranked joint-second in the entire Premier League (of players with more than 900 minutes) for 'open play xT from passes and carries per 90' with 0.29. It's a little complicated, but essentially, Hudson-Odoi is elite at improving Chelsea's chances of scoring a goal; it's as simple as that.

Not only that, but his key passes per 90 tally of 2.66 was second in the Chelsea squad, behind only Mason Mount, and his 11.86 progressive carries per 90 ranked him in the 98th percentile for attacking midfielders and wingers in Europe's top five leagues last term.

With five goals and five assists in 1,819 minutes in all competitions last year, Hudson-Odoi does need to improve his end product, but he's at an elite level for somebody his age, he just needs minutes.

Why is this season so important?

First of all, it's worth noting that every season is important, but Hudson-Odoi is now entering his fourth season as a regular in the Chelsea first-team squad, but he's yet to establish himself as a regular in the starting XI.

By comparison, Mount did exactly that in his first season, and he's now one of Chelsea and England's most valuable players.

Whether it's at right wing-back, or preferably left-wing, by far his best position, Hudson-Odoi has to ensure he's first-choice or at least in the conversation to be first-choice by the end of the 2021/22 campaign. If he doesn't, then he may never do so.

Of course, competition for those attacking spots is insane at Chelsea, especially as Tuchel is sticking with three centre-backs, but Hudson-Odoi needs to force his way into the German's thinking.

With Lukaku arriving for a huge fee, added to the vast amount of money spent last summer, Chelsea may need to sell some assets next year, and if Hudson-Odoi remains simply a rotation option, then he may be the one sacrificed.

A player possessed with a bucket load of talent, it's time that Hudson-Odoi displayed that week-in, week-out, because he has the ability.

Has pre-season improved Hudson-Odoi's chances?

In short, probably. Alongside Tammy Abraham and Faustino Anjorin, Hudson-Odoi was the first player to report back to Cobham for pre-season, in what has been his first proper pre-season since 2018.

Do Bayern Munich still want to sign Chelsea’s Hudson-Odoi?

Last year was hampered by COVID-19, while the year before, he was dealing with a serious, long-term injury.

That Achilles injury has no doubt impacted his performance over the past few years, but in pre-season, he's looked back to his best.

Sharp in the behind-closed-door friendlies, and dynamic against Bournemouth, Arsenal and Tottenham, Hudson-Odoi has been arguably Chelsea's most impressive pre-season performer, perhaps only behind Hakim Ziyech.

Training clips have shown his one-on-one ability, while a few sharp skills against Arsenal left defenders in his wake. Whether or not he's done enough to start against Crystal Palace on August 14 is unknown, but with many stars returning late from Euro 2020, he certainly has a good chance.

Will 2021/22 finally be Hudson-Odoi's year, or will the plethora of options available to Tuchel hamper his progress further? Find out over the coming months.