Chelsea’s domestic season came to a close in an FA cup final where misfortune seemed to strike Chelsea at every turn, and someone who has similarly suffered more than their fair share of misfortune is Callum Hudson-Odoi. The young winger has certainly had a less than ideal time, suffering multiple injuries throughout the season and contracting covid-19. Callum’s misfortune seemed to continue last Sunday, with 31-year-old Roma-bound Pedro being preferred to him from the bench. Hudson-Odoi was brought on later, however, Pedro being favoured over him caused fans to speculate on Lampard’s appraisal of the young winger and how his future may look under the Chelsea Legend. This article will look at Callum’s career so far, the Lampard vs Callum conspiracy theory, and how his future at Chelsea may look next season.
Hudson-Odoi is undoubtedly a top talent, something which he regularly exhibited throughout his youth career and during his limited opportunities in the 18/19 season. Incredible performances in the Europa League, a 45 million pound bid from Bayern Munich, and setting the record for youngest player ever to play for England in a competitive game naturally built up incredibly high hopes for the teenager. However, despite his talent and potential, an achilles rupture and smaller subsequent injuries have hampered Hudson-Odoi’s progress.
Hudson-Odoi coming off after his Achilles injury in April 2019. Credit: Evening Standard
Callum returned from his achilles injury only 5 months later on the 28th of September 2019. Perhaps naively, many fans expected Callum to return as one of Chelsea’s best players, making comparisons with fellow teenage England star Jadon Sancho. While it would be harsh to call Callum’s performances poor, he didn’t live up to the dizzy heights of fan expectation, eventually being dropped to the bench for Pulisic and Willian (albeit after some absolutely outstanding performances from both players, especially since the restart of football following the coronavirus break).
Callum being unable to replicate his previous form is disappointing but understandable. Achilles injuries are amongst the worst injuries a footballer can suffer. According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, it can take a player up to a year after recovery to recreate their pre injury form. With this in mind Callum’s failure to immediately set the world alight shouldn’t be seen as an indication of a change in trajectory on his career.
Hudson-Odoi in his first game back from injury vs Grimsby. Credit: Football Fan Cast
Despite setbacks, in the limited time he’s played Callum has still done well. At face value, 1 goal and 5 assists this season isn’t a bad return for someone his age but isn’t exactly ground-breaking either. However, adjusting his goal contributions for minutes played this season tells a different story. Callum has played a total of 863 minutes in the league this season, the equivalent of approximately 9 and a half games. With this considered, 6 goal contributions in 9 and a half games shows Callum has a very high output.
Things get even more impressive when looking at his assists per 90 and expected assists (xA) per 90. In the league this season, Callum has 0.52 assists per 90, third only to Kevin De Bruyne (0.68) and Bruno Fernandes (0.52). Callum also has 0.29 xA per 90, ranking 4th overall in the Premier League. This impressive output may not be replicated over a larger sample size but it demonstrates that even while not at his best Hudson-Odoi is still a very productive player, something manager Frank Lampard definitely will be aware of.
This brings us to the FA cup final in which Hudson-Odoi was eventually called upon in the 78th minute. Lampard’s decision to bring on Pedro before him combined with frustration over Hudson-Odoi’s lack of minutes post lockdown led some to speculate that Lampard may dislike or not rate Hudson-Odoi.
So, should Lampard’s recent use of Callum be cause for concern? No. Chelsea fans will remember at the start of the season similar conspiracy theories were being thrown around about Lampard disliking Christian Pulisic. Pulisic initially received limited minutes under Lampard, until his man of the match performance against Burnley in which he scored a hattrick and cemented his place in the starting XI. 5 months later and Pulisic is now arguably Chelsea’s best player with Lampard having glowing praise for the American, saying he can reach the level of Sterling, Salah, and Mane. The point being, similar accusations have been thrown Lampard’s way before and have turned out to be completely false.
Hudson-Odoi and Lampard. Credit: Sky Sports
So why was Pedro used over Callum in the FA cup final? It’s impossible to say for sure but the decision definitely has its merits. For one Pedro is one of the most decorated players of all time, picking up every single trophy available to him in his career. The Spaniard definitely isn’t lacking in Cup final experience, especially compared to Hudson-Odoi who’s only exposure to a similar stage being at youth level. Another reason could be the stylistic difference between the players. Hudson-Odoi is a player who does his best work in the final third but isn’t really someone proficient at tracking back and contributing defensively. Barring the first 10 minutes, Chelsea’s time in the final third against Arsenal was very limited, with their press limiting Chelsea’s possession to sideways passes in their own half. Therefore the threat Callum possesses when in and around the box would be rendered useless and a player more proficient in the defensive side of the game (Pedro) could be seen as more favourable.
So how does the future look for Hudson-Odoi? Overall it hasn’t been a bad season for Callum considering the context of his fitness but next season will be a big one. The arrivals of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, both players capable of operating on the wing means despite the departures of Pedro and Willian, Callum won’t have a free run into the starting 11. These arrivals plus Kai Havertz (who is also expected to be joining Chelsea) are all versatile players who will both directly and indirectly provide competition for the left and right wing.
This means he will at least initially continue to come off the bench. However, the combination of being further removed from injury and a proper season should help Callum to get closer to his best. Callum’s ability to play on the left and the right works in his favour, meaning he could come off the bench for either Pulisic or Ziyech. Furthermore the introduction of new signings will bring more quality around him, so less pressure will be on him to go out and change a game on his own. These factors combined with a heavy fixture list and potential injuries to others mean Frank will undoubtedly turn to Callum throughout the season. He may not have lived up to the incredibly high fan expectation this season but Hudson-Odoi’s future at Chelsea remains a bright one.