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Zola praises youngsters Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Christensen in PAOK win

Chelsea v PAOK - UEFA Europa League - Group L Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

There was plenty to be happy about last night, from both an individual player and team performance perspective, as Chelsea put 10-man PAOK to the sword, scoring four times and drawing just as many excellent saves from the visitors’ 2m-tall goalkeeper, Alexandros Paschalakis.

All eyes were on 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi in his first ever competitive start for the club, who rewarded his manager’s (long overdue) faith with a goal, an assist, and plenty of goodwill from the stands, but as assistant coach Gianfranco Zola pointed out afterwards, the kid was just one of several youngsters who performed well on the night.

“We are pleased. We came to this game from a bad game against Tottenham. So we needed the action and the performance was encouraging. Of course, we were advantaged by the sending off, but we played with a lot of quality. The team’s attitude was good and also the way they dealt with the situation was great.

“I thought there were some very-very good performances. Cesc played very well, Ruben also; Callum and Christensen, in particular. The whole team played a good game, and we are very pleased because it was an important game.”

With Fabregas pulling the strings, Loftus-Cheek dominating the center physically and technically, Christensen composed, and Hudson-Odoi electrifying, it was truly a night that went according to script. It was easily the best performance the ‘B-Team’ has put together since Sarri instituted the midweek/weekend rotation policy, and that also means it was the first time any of these players may have truly staked a claim on prime Premier League minutes, too. And just in time, with 10 matches in December (9 of which will be in the league) coming up.

“The strength in depth in very good and encouraging. When players who hadn’t played much so far respond like that, it’s a very good signal. Some of these players will be needed in Premier League games, too [due to fixture congestion], so it’s important for the whole team that they play like this.”

Maybe even young Hudson-Odoi? Sarri was (still) quick to dismiss the idea of using him in the Premier League, but Zola struck a more positive note.

“We’re pleased for Callum. He had done very well in preseason but then didn’t have a lot of [opportunities] because we have so many other good players in the squad, but he kept training well and gave a very mature performance today. And that’s very important. He has to continue like that. He has a lot of ground to cover, but the attitude shown today was very good.”

-Gianfranco Zola; source: Chelsea TV

In an ideal world, everyone would have endless amounts of patience. But in the modern world and especially in modern football, there’s increasingly little of it. Hudson-Odoi’s situation remains balanced on a knife edge — his immediate future could hold anything from a new contract and a loan to an untimely sale. Let’s hope we make the right decisions for everyone’s best interest, including the team’s as we head into winter.

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