This time, it wasn’t quite so miserable for Chelsea. They lost to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley for the second time in less than two months but, unlike their dismal 3-1 defeat in the league in November, this was an even affair, this was a game they easily could have won.
But in the end, Harry Kane‘s penalty, converted after a lengthy VAR consultation to determine whether the England striker had strayed offside before being brought down by Kepa Arrizabalaga, proved the difference in an entertaining Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at Wembley.
But the visitors did not exit the field with quite the same level of ignominy as they did in November. They left disappointed, not embarrassed, disappointed that they genuinely could have got something from the game, especially having spent large portions of the evening pushing for an equaliser.
Spurs hold a slender advantage but it’s a delicately poised tie ahead of the return leg at Stamford Bridge on January 22.
And, assuming he is still with the club, Callum Hudson-Odoi, you feel from tonight’s evidence, will be central to Maurizio Sarri’s chances of reaching a cup final at the first time of asking in English football.
In his pre-match comments, Sarri was asked about Hudson-Odoi’s involvement from the start after a deluge of speculation linking the winger with Bayern Munich.
“He’s on the pitch because in the last match he played very well,” the Italian said. “He’s doing very well in training and second because I don’t want on the pitch too many players at risk of substitution like Willian, Pedro, Giroud. I prefer to start with the young players.”
Hudson-Odoi’s future at Stamford Bridge is still shroud in uncertainty. This game has changed little in the grand scheme but Sarri’s comments seemed very much like a ‘show me what you can do’ challenge.
The 18-year-old duly responded. With Eden Hazard struggling to assert himself as the main striker, the winger was Chelsea’s most adventurous outlet. From the opening minutes, when he picked up the ball on the right, cut inside and exchanged a one-two before the attack broke down, he seemed the man in blue most likely to open up the Spurs defence.
From that point, he gave Danny Rose something to think about. He ran at the full-back when he could, forcing a save from Paulo Gazzaniga after seven minutes before finding Hazard in Chelsea’s next attack, allowing the Belgian to get a shot away on goal.
He almost bagged a fortuitous equaliser on the stroke of half-time, too, when his deflected cross required a smart save from Gazzaniga, who reacted sharply to tip the dropping ball onto the woodwork.
Sarri’s gameplan seemed simple: get the ball to Hudson-Odoi in attack. With Hazard through the middle, the young Englishman was the man to provide that drive and impetus from wide areas, lighting up an otherwise drab return for the Blues to Wembley.
The FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest on Saturday, in which he assisted both of Álvaro Morata’s goals, clearly served to boost his confidence. He looked like a player out to demonstrate just that, to remind Chelsea what they lack; sheer pace and dynamism on the flanks.
Admittedly, he faded in the second half before being withdrawn for Olivier Giroud ten minutes from time but his input on the night cannot be faulted. He possesses the ability to bring fans to their feet and change games in the blink of an eye.
When Chelsea lost to Spurs at Wembley in the league in November, Sarri drew no positives, saying that he didn’t ‘like’ the way any of his players had conducted their duties.
While the outcome of this game wasn’t much happier for the Italian, he could certainly look to Hudson-Odoi’s contributions as a beam of light at the end of another trying evening.
Whether his increased involvement and rise to prominence in recent weeks is enough to keep him at the club beyond this month, however, remains to be seen.
One thing’s for sure, though. Any excitement over the arrival of Christian Pulisic this summer will be dampened if they lose one of the most exciting talents to emerge from the club’s youth academy in years.