Eden Hazard used as striker as Chelsea lost against Liverpool

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Many Chelsea supporters have called for Callum Hudson-Odoi to be given more first team opportunities. Maurizio Sarri has finally begun to oblige, putting his faith in the 18-year-old in recent games. However, this has brought up another conundrum for the Italian manager: with Willian in fine form and Eden Hazard being Chelsea’s main man, it’s difficult to drop either of them.

Rather than doing that, Sarri started all three today, with Hazard playing as a makeshift striker, while Hudson-Odoi and Willian operated from the wings. The plan of action could have been deployed because Sarri didn’t believe Gonzalo Higuain or Oliver Giroud weren’t up to the job against Liverpool or simply to get all three wingers into the side. The only thing that is certain is it didn’t work.

Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk marshalled Hazard very well throughout the game, as he struggled to make his usual impact. It was only when Hudson-Odoi was substituted for Higuain in the 56th minute, which meant Hazard was moved back to the wing, that the Belgian began to thrive. With Chelsea failing to get on the score sheet in a 2-0 at Anfield, it was too little too late. However, there is definitely a lesson to be learned.

Hazard has played as the central figure of Chelsea’s attacks in other games during this season, with varying levels of success. He scored twice in a win against Watford from the centre and also assisted twice against Manchester City from the same position. However, with Hazard being Chelsea’s greatest and most threatening player, he should surely be deployed in the position he plays his best football in, which is undoubtedly from the wing.

As well as potentially detracting from Hazard’s game, playing him in a central role can also be of detriment to his team mates. While he has impeccable control, he doesn’t have the height of someone like Giroud, meaning his team mates don’t have the option of clipping in a high ball for him to battle for in the air.

While Sarri does like to have his team play a passing game, which involves keeping the ball on the floor, Jorginho likes to send a dinked ball into the front man to move the play on. Hazard is usually the beneficiary of these kinds of balls, as his link up play with whoever is occupying the striker spot allows him to get in behind defences once the initial ball has been flicked on.

Today’s loss means that Chelsea are relying on Arsenal and Manchester United losing their games in hand to retain their top four status. With four more Premier League matches remaining, one of which will see them travel to Old Trafford, the Blues can’t afford anymore slip ups if they’re going to get back into the Champions League through the Premier League.

Though before they focus on the league run in, Chelsea will face Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday, a competition which offers them an alternative route into Europe’s primary competition.

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Sarri to put more trust in Chelsea’s youngsters?

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One of the things Maurizio Sarri has been most criticised for this season is his unwillingness to trust youngsters. Callum Hudson-Odoi was the main absentee who got people talking about this, but there are other examples within the Chelsea team.

With the potential of a transfer ban looming, if Sarri remains as Chelsea manager past this season he will need to start using the talented academy graduates at his disposal. Throughout the campaign it seemed as though this was something the Italian wasn’t happy to do, though Thursday’s win against Brighton & Hove Albion could be the signal for change.

Sarri had declared Hudson-Odoi ready to play shortly before the Brighton game. He ended up giving the teenager his first ever Premier League start, while also giving Ruben Loftus-Cheek his first league start of 2019.

Both players duly repaid his trust. Hudson-Odoi assisted the opening goal of the game when he breezed part Anthony Knockaert, before firing a low ball into Olivier Giroud who bundled the ball home.

Having scored a controversial winner against Cardiff City, Loftus-Cheek was the scorer of Chelsea’s final goal as they won 3-0. He received the ball from Eden Hazard on the turn before calmly side footing it into the top corner from outside the box.

Both of the goal contributions from the Chelsea youngsters were executed with supreme skill and confidence. They must have seen this game as a chance to prove they should be in the line up for the latter stages of this season; they certainly took the opportunity to show what they’re capable of.

The question now is whether Sarri will continue to play them from the start of games in the league. Both players have impressed numerous times in the Europa League and with their latest performance, it would seem they’ve done everything possible to force their manager’s hand.

Tomorrow night will see Chelsea host West Ham United, with a chance to go from fifth to third in the table- though Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal will both have a game in hand on them. Each match between now and the end of the season will be vital for Chelsea going forward, as well as for Sarri’s job security. If he decides to play the youngsters against West Ham and beyond it will be a sign that he truly trusts them.

There is of course plenty more talent outside of Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi, which Sarri can utilise this season and next if he wishes. The likes of Andreas Christensen and Ethan Ampadu, 22 and 18 years old respectively, are likely to be deployed in the Europa League and could be used sparingly in the league.

Looking ahead to next season, players such as Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Mason Mount -who have all impressed on loan in the Championship this campaign- could all be brought back into the Chelsea fold.

Chelsea have had an incredible talent production line for years, which has been criminally under used by those in the Chelsea hot seat. Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek could be heading up the group that finally make their mark on the first team.

 

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Maurizio Sarri doesn’t deserve the criticism he has faced at Chelsea

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With Chelsea’s impending two window transfer ban it might be an idea that the club get behind Maurizio Sarri and start properly backing him. It has felt unfair that the Italian has endured so much criticism this season, and it hasn’t just been from the board but also some of the players and even the fans.

Some fans are calling for his head which just seems bizarre when we look at the plain facts. The club are still in with a chance of a top 4 finish, they reached the Carabao Cup final and they are in the quarter finals of the Europa League. How has this been a bad season?

Granted a league title was shot away months ago, but did anyone expect Chelsea to challenge for a title this season? And yes there have been disappointing defeats and they have lost 7 games this season. But take out Liverpool and the least amount of games lost is Manchester City with 4 defeats, so only 3 more is not a disaster. Plus shouldn’t we remember that the Blues started the season off so strongly, going the first three months without a defeat?

Of course fans will see backwards steps- the 6-0 loss to Manchester City just underlined who is the boss right now, but again let’s remind ourselves of Chelsea’s 2-0 win over the same side at Stamford Bridge earlier this season. Had that result happened now Sarri would be praised. Plus in the Carabao Cup where they had just lost 6-0 to City they faced them again, with everyone expecting another cricket score it didn’t happen. The match finished 0-0, Chelsea were accused of being boring, when in reality they had quickly learned from their mistakes. In the end perhaps it didn’t matter as they lost in the most cruellest ways to penalties.

Sarri has also been accused of not being able to deploy his players in the right positions and making some odd selection choices. One of these is the outstanding emerging talent of Callum Hudson-Odoi. Sarri has not been picking the 18 year old as regularly as fans would have liked. But at the same time Sarri is being careful with the prodigy and at the end of the day is still giving him a run in the Europa League, so he is gaining experience.

With the transfer window ban and the possibility that key player Eden Hazard will leave at the end of the season maybe Chelsea need to back Sarri more. Isn’t this is a case of not appreciating what you have, after all Chelsea have made that mistake countless times before.

Chelsea can sell Eden Hazard as long as they can keep Hudson-Odoi

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Forget about Eden Hazard, it is clear that the Belgian international does not want to play for Chelsea anymore and looks set to move to Real Madrid in the summer. Hazard not being a part of the Chelsea first team would have seemed crazy a year ago but time has moved on and Chelsea need to think with their front feet, the reason is down to Callum Hudson-Odoi who even at 18 looks like the real deal.

Hazard has been one of the best players in Europe in the last few seasons and will be a loss for Chelsea, but there is no point in the club trying to keep him. True as it stands Chelsea would ideally like to keep Hazard given that they have been handed a two window transfer ban by UEFA- although the club are appealing about that. But at the same time selling Hazard to Real Madrid will generate at least £100m if not more and the Blues have Hudson-Odoi who already looks like a superb talent.

Hudson-Odoi made his debut for England earlier in the week and looked like he had been playing international football for years. Yes it was against Montenegro, but it was away from home against a nation that have made life difficult for England in the past, and yes the youngster will be up against better quality in years to come. But it was his assurance on the ball and confidence that would have taken anyone back, and his future is a bright one in the game.

It is why Bayern Munich came calling, the German giants do not go after English talent so young If they do not spot someone special. At the time Hudson-Odoi was eager to join Bayern, and why not? How many young English players get the opportunities they deserve at the biggest Premier League clubs? But Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has given Hudson-Odoi starts in both the league and Europa League and Hudson-Odoi might just start to see the bigger picture.

That bigger picture is that if Hazard does leave as expected the middle attacking role could be opened up to him and surely it is a position that he will relish. He could even at such a young age be the main attacking player for a club like Chelsea, the biggest fish in the pond so to speak, which should convince him to stay.

What is certain is that the initial £35m that Bayern had offered Chelsea for the player is chicken feed. His value will keep rising, especially if he has a good Euro’s and right now Chelsea are in the position to get the best years out of the player and cash in. The Blues will be hoping that Hudson-Odoi feels the same way and it will be up to Sarri to convince the player to stay and that he will have a very pivotal role in the clubs next few years.