Would it be hyperbolic to say that tonight we witness a glimpse of the future? Maybe. Maybe not. This wasn’t just Montenegro after all, right, coach?
“The match was not easy. We played very well and at the end it seems like it was easy, but we deserved to win. We deserved to win 3-0 because we played a very good match with the right level of enthusiasm, with the right level of intensity for 75 minutes, of course not in the last 15 minutes, but we deserved to win.”
Three Chelsea academy graduates in the first-team lineup for a meaningful Premier League match. Three! Which name to mention first?
Andreas Christensen? He of sizable experience at all levels of football, including Champions League and the World Cup? What say you, Maurizio?
“I was impressed by the performance of Christensen. I want to speak also about him. In the last period Christensen has played five or six matches really very well.”
Ruben Loftus-Cheek? He of extensive experience at all levels of football, including the World Cup and more Premier League starts than Christensen? This one’s an easy explanation, yes?
“Loftus-Cheek for the first time in the season is without his problem in his back. In the last 20 days he was able to have training every day. Today he played very well, he scored a wonderful goal. After 75 minutes he had a little problem with his hamstring, nothing serious, only cramp I think, but tomorrow I want to be sure about the situation with his back because that is the big problem.”
Callum Hudson-Odoi? He of growing experience at all but the highest echelons of world football before the age of 19? You knew all along, right, boss?
“[He played] very well, but I was sure about that. As I said yesterday Callum is ready to play in every match, also the most difficult matches, because he has improved a lot during the season. He played very well.”
These players aren’t wide-eyed overawed pipsqueaks freshly plucked from the Academy and dropped into the deep-end hoping they’ll at least float for a minute. In a certain sense, they’re delivering the bare minimum we’ve come to expect from them. Is that unreasonable? Maurizio Sarri would probably say so. We must protect the delicate youth!
“This match was very suitable for him. They usually defend very low and tight. He is able to start wide, and for him there was the possibility to play one against one 25 times in a match.
“I am also really happy with him because he defended very well. For us it’s very important to have three offensive players able to defend, otherwise it’s a problem for the balance of the team. So tactically now he is ready.”
“[But] he has to stay with his feet on the floor. He’s a good boy. Of course now he can risk to stop improving, he can risk thinking he is a player at 100 per cent, but it’s not true. It’s impossible to be at the top when you are 18. He needs to improve, he can improve, and I want him to improve because he can become one of the best players in Europe.”
That’s not to say that Sarri is entirely wrong, as much as he opens himself to criticism with his various aspects of stubbornness. We witnessed first-hand Andreas Christensen burning out last season. Loftus-Cheek’s nagging injuries remain a concern. And Hudson-Odoi, as much as everyone wants to crown him a man for all occasions, is still just 18. Consistency usually comes with age and experience.
It’s not unreasonable to want to protect them. But only to within reason. That balance may not be easy to find — everyone’s an expert! — but if we can find it, we just might watch it grow into something magnificent.
“I think [they can become the foundation for the team], and I hope so. They are at the moment very important players, but their potential is higher, so in the future they can become top players. For this team the future could be good.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Chelsea FC
So say we all.