EPL

Hudson-Odoi shines as gloom surrounds Tuchel's Chelsea bow

By Sports Desk January 27, 2021

The sight of Thomas Tuchel marching in sprightly fashion onto the Cobham training pitches to take his first training session, a few hours after being confirmed as Chelsea's latest head coach, oozed urgency.

Perhaps, just 24 hours later, as Chelsea played out a goalless draw Wolves, everyone was just a little bit tired. It had been a tumultuous few days in west London, after all.

Frank Lampard's sacking by the club where he is the all-time record goalscorer has prompted an understandably emotional reaction.

Identity and how a fanbase relates to their club is one of those intangible things that matters more than most in football, despite and maybe even more so with these times of isolation.

Chelsea fans have seen a parade of managers, popular or otherwise, slung out of the door whether or not they won trophies. But then came Super Frank, one of their own, and a team where the club's best-in-class academy talents were given a chance.

For many, this just felt right. Being part of something, belonging, was even enough to anesthetise against the damaging reality of two wins and five defeats in the past eight Premier League games for a Champions League club that splurged on a £200million close-season refit.

Lampard, all eloquent charm for the most part in public, also comes from good football stock and is a good interview. As such, his defenders in the British sports press have lined up this week to condemn Roman Abramovich's most heinous sacking to date.

These twin fronts have acted to obscure an inarguable fact: Tuchel, winner of the only trophy in the post-Jurgen Klopp years at Borussia Dortmund, a two-time Ligue 1 winner and a Champions League finalist at Paris Saint-Germain, is an obvious upgrade on a much-loved figure whose only season in management before being handed the reins at Chelsea was a sixth-place finish in the Championship with Derby County.

Nevertheless, battlelines are drawn and people will polarise accordingly. This is the 21st century, after all.

The first check on the outragometer came an hour before kick-off. Mason Mount, Lampard's star pupil - benched! Antonio Rudiger, reported chief agitator against Our Frankie - starting!

Where the brave, young Chelsea Lions in this Bundesliga-flavoured XI? Actually, Callum Hudson-Odoi was given license from right wing-back. Kai Havertz roved alongside Hakim Ziyech behind the centre-forward, who was Olivier Giroud, not Timo Werner.

The Germany striker, along with Tuchel's former Dortmund charge Christian Pulisic, had to be content with places on the bench.

Chelsea looked to paint pretty patterns early on, with their first-half passing map something of a Jackson Pollock. A total of 433 passes was the most they have ever recorded in the first half of a Premier League game, with Mateo Kovacic dictating matters nicely.

The trade-off was a home team lacking incision, save for one lung-bursting surge through midfield and into the area by Havertz and the constant threat posed by Hudson-Odoi in an unfamiliar role.

This was only the England international's fourth Premier League start of the season, showing Lampard did not simply select by passport and birth certificate. On this evidence, he will feature prominently under Tuchel.

Giroud was agonisingly close to turning in an early low delivery, while he saw Ben Chilwell blaze over another cross on the volley. The 20-year-old delivered 11 crosses overall and attempted five dribbles.

Hudson-Odoi was right back into the faces of a deep-lying Wolves defence after the break, while it was to Tuchel's slight misfortune that the next clear opening again fell to Chilwell. Havertz was the provider with a 61st-minute cutback, the former Leicester man again woefully off target.

The Chelsea wing-backs were pegged high and a back three remained even after Pulisic replaced Chilwell, although Pedro Neto lobbed against the bar for Wolves in a rare 71st-minute attack.

Tammy Abraham and Mount were the other substitutes as Werner remained unused, much to the disappointment of writers punting for an easy end to their narrative arc.

Kovacic, who completed a remarkable 146 of 150 passes, clipped the side netting with a late curling effort and the relentless Hudson-Odoi forced Rui Patricio into a full-length save.

Had that or a stoppage-time Havertz header gone in, a new era would have had lift-off. But, as heavy rain cloaked Stamford Bridge and the banner in honour of Lampard remained, a sense of mourning lingered.

In Tommy We Trust? Not just yet.

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