Callum Hudson-Odoi struck back at his critics with a delightfully dominant display against Sabri Lamouchi’s spirited Nottingham Forest side.
In a day marked by sentimentality, as Pedro, Ross Barkley and Michy Batshuayi all started what looks set to be their final respective games in a Chelsea shirt, the Blues started brightly pushing high up the pitch before taking an early lead through Hudson Odoi’s scuffed near-post finish. Smart, incisive combination play in and around the 18-yard box eventually led to Pedro spraying the ball out to Hudson-Odoi who cut inside his marker and squeezing his shot past Jordan Smith. The 19-year-old has come under fire in recent weeks for being loose in possession and appearing tentative when picking up the ball and driving at opposition defences. Today however he started proceedings on the front foot, coming from out to in with electrifying unpredictability and duly reaping the rewards with his first goal since September 2019. Hudson-Odoi was once again involved when Chelsea doubled their advantage midway through the first half. Having already caught out Smith with a low near-post drive the winger displayed his versatility by arcing a shot into the far corner which was parried into the path of Barkley who simply tapped home his first goal of the season.
VAR also took center stage as is the tradition these days and prior to Barkley’s goal Fikayo Tomori found himself breathing a huge sigh of relief when it was adjudged that Forest debutant Alex Mighten had strayed offside in the build-up to him being felled in the penalty area by Tomori’s needlessly aggressive shoulder charge. Lamouchi was then later left pondering what could’ve been when Ryan Yates’s header was also ruled out for offside, but the potential outcome of these isolated incidents was by no means representative of Chelsea’s dominance.
Chelsea deployed a high line pushing Emerson and Reece James in field to operate in the half-spaces and create overloads in the center of the park to overwhelm Forest’s statutory midfield. In creating said numerical advantage Pedro and Hudson-Odoi were given a free role in which to stretch the opposition backline. In what appeared to be a farewell performance Pedro was magnetic, combining with Batshuayi to drag the Forest backline towards the ball and create space out wide for Hudson-Odoi to operate.
Despite dominating possession throughout and taking a two-goal lead into the break the Stamford Bridge became increasingly agitated by the regularity at which play broke down with Barkley and Batshuayi both guilty of failing to shield and offload the ball quickly enough. Today was a chance for the pair, Barkley, in particular, to prove their worth to Frank Lampard but having failed to capitalize on the opportunities and space afforded to them it seems that their days at the club may now be numbered.
Having coasted into the next round of the FA Cup attention must now turn to next weekend’s encounter with Burnley in an attempt to resurrect the Blues’s torrid recent home form.