Callum Hudson-Odoi and Romelu Lukaku had missed Chelsea’s last three games after testing positive for COVID-19 and having to isolate for ten days, but they were back for Sunday’s trip to Birmingham to take on Aston Villa, and back in great effect, putting in game-changing performances!
Their impact was especially notable not just because of the time missed (and the circumstances around their absence), but as Thomas Tuchel explained afterwards, also because their fitness levels were a concern before the game — a condition that is unfortunately not unique to just the two of them in the squad.
“We put [Lukaku] on the pitch for 45 minutes which was more than the fitness and medical department recommended for him but we thought we can take the risk and be more offensive with him. [...] I asked him if he can play 45 minutes. I asked him and he said yes so we tried to play him for 45 minutes as a number nine.”
“[When] you read the match sheet and read the names you might think, yes, everyone is there and it is a top squad. It is true but when you look in details, you see that we are struggling and taking some huge risks. [And] that’s why you don’t see me fully excited. [We] are just checking on a daily basis about who can be pushed.”
Lukaku’s introduction at half-time, with Christian Pulisic dropping to wing-back and Reece James taking over from Trevoh Chalobah in the back three, changed the game without Chelsea needing to change our approach. That’s perhaps an indictment of asking Pulisic to play as if he were Lukaku in the first-half, but let’s focus on the positive impact of the change instead.
Cant stop rom!— Ben Chilwell (@BenChilwell) December 26, 2021
And of course it was Callum Hudson-Odoi who set up Lukaku for the winning goal, after winning the penalty for the game-tying goal in the first half. We’re always looking for scoresheet-impact from the 21-year-old (as unfair as that may be at 21), and today he certainly delivered.
“There was no switch in our tactical formation [at half-time]. [Lukaku] does not need me to play in a game like this. He doesn’t need any speech for me. He has done nothing else in his whole life. He just needs to get fit and it is not so easy when you have a long injury, with a body like Rom and you catch Covid.
“[...] Callum was forced to play 90 minutes straight after Covid due to injuries during the match and that’s the way it is. [And] I think he was brilliant today and we forced him.
“Normally it was clear he plays one half to the maximum of 60 minutes. This was already more than the recommendation of the fitness department but he was strong in training so I wanted to have him on the pitch. Hakim Ziyech has only one training session, Callum had two and a half, so we decided to put him in. [He] overcame some obstacles today and some adversity. There was a big game a very important game from him.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
With two more injury concerns added to the slate even as others slowly recover, the revolving door on the treatment room continues to spin at alarming rates. But we’re somehow managing to navigate this landscape of fixture congestion, COVID infection, and player overload while still staying alive in all our competitions ... so we can only hope the situation will improve sooner rather than later.