LONDON — By the 35th minute, Yuri Ribeiro had had enough.
Callum Hudson-Odoi had already gone past him on multiple occasions, scoring the first goal of Chelsea’s 2-0 FA Cup third-round win and helping to set up Ross Barkley for the second, and the Nottingham Forest left-back was not going to let it happen again. When the 19-year-old dropped his shoulder and casually knocked the ball inside Ribeiro for the umpteenth time, Forest’s No. 2 stuck out his foot and tripped him. A Portugal under-21 international he may be, but 22-year-old Ribeiro momentarily bore the look of a greying Sunday league full-back snidely enacting revenge on an irritatingly sprightly opponent.
Hudson-Odoi swapped flanks in the second half, which brought relief to Ribeiro but not to his teammates in Forest’s beleaguered back four, who continued to suffer at the hands of Chelsea’s No. 20 right to the very end of this one-sided FA Cup tie. Had Barkley and Michy Batshuayi, among others, applied more accurate finishes to Hudson-Odoi’s crosses, the scoreline would have provided a more fitting reflection of the home side’s dominance.
The game at a chilly Stamford Bridge brought Hudson-Odoi full circle, for it was against the same opposition at the same stage of this competition last season that he had given one of the first indications of his promise, setting up both goals for Alvaro Morata in a similarly routine 2-0 win.
No sooner had he done so than it emerged he had submitted a transfer request in the apparent hope of forcing through a move to Bayern Munich. Chelsea stood firm and he stayed, but the past 12 months have not brought the kind of smooth, linear progression that he might have hoped for, with a serious Achilles injury sustained last April keeping him out of action until September. The five-year contract he signed in September earned him a new salary reportedly worth £100,000 a week, but the teenager remains a bit-part player and his recent performances have prompted complaints from some Chelsea fans that he is not living up to expectations. This display, albeit against a second-string team representing a second-tier club, was a reminder of what he can do.
He gave Chelsea the lead in the sixth minute with only his second goal of the campaign, easily cutting inside Ribeiro and dispatching a left-footed shot that clipped his opponent’s heel on its way into the bottom-right corner. In the 33rd minute, the same formula brought the same outcome. Hudson-Odoi beat Ribeiro and shot across goal with his left foot, and although Jordan Smith saved, Barkley was on hand to tuck in the rebound.
There was a moment of concern shortly before half-time when Hudson-Odoi went down holding the same Achilles tendon that betrayed him last year, but to Chelsea delight and Forest dismay, he reemerged unscathed for the second half and remained the game’s principal protagonist until the full-time whistle.
“It’s been an interesting 12 months for him, and when you consider how young he is, we have to take that into account,” said Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard. “Last year everyone was talking about him for different reasons. He gets a terrible injury, he comes back very early and I think there were still issues getting him absolutely tip top. Then he’s in the spotlight because of his new contract. It was a nice step forward for him today. The next challenge will be, next time he plays, can you keep sustaining that improvement?”
Hudson-Odoi’s inclusion was one of nine changes that Lampard made to the team that had drawn 1-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion on New Year’s Day, and he was not the only fringe player to seize his opportunity, with Barkley and Pedro also catching the eye.
A stuttering run of five defeats in nine games has raised expectations that Chelsea will enter the transfer market this month to address some of the shortcomings in Lampard’s squad, following the quashing by the Court of Arbitration for Sport of the club’s two-window transfer ban. With Chelsea unhealthily reliant on Tammy Abraham for goals, it is in attack where the squad is expected to be bolstered. If Hudson-Odoi showed that he could be a solution to Lampard’s need for extra attacking options in the season’s second half, the same could not be said of Batshuayi.
Making only his third start of the season, and his first since October, the Belgium striker squandered a succession of opportunities to end his two-month goal drought. Unable to convert a stream of dangerous crosses from the impressive Reece James in the first half, he saved his worst for last, ghosting in to meet Hudson-Odoi’s cross from the left in the 70th minute, only to inelegantly hook the ball into the Shed End from close range.
Batshuayi could console himself that he had at least made it onto the pitch, which was more than could be said for Olivier Giroud. The former Arsenal striker has not kicked a ball in anger for Chelsea since the end of November and will surely have to leave Stamford Bridge this month if he is to avoid jeopardising his chances of leading the line for France at Euro 2020.
Unhappily for visiting full-backs, Hudson-Odoi is not going anywhere.