LONDON — Maurizio Sarri backed Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen to be the foundation of Chelsea for years to come after all three academy graduates performed brightly in Wednesday’s comfortable 3-0 win over Brighton at Stamford Bridge.
Hudson-Odoi marked his first Premier League start with an assist, Loftus-Cheek scored a spectacular goal and Christensen helped limit Brighton to just one shot on target as Chelsea built on Sunday’s fortuitous victory against Cardiff City with a far more convincing display.
The presence of the trio in Chelsea’s starting XI also helped ease the growing hostility towards Sarri from Blues supporters, who repeatedly chanted for him to be sacked during Sunday’s listless display in the Welsh capital.
Chelsea player ratings: Hudson-Odoi 8/10 in impressive debut
“They played very well,” Sarri said of Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek. “But I was sure about it. Callum is now ready to play in every match, also in the most difficult matches, because he improved a lot during the season.
“I was sure about his performance. He played very well. But I am really very happy with him because he defended really well. It’s important to have three offensive players able to defend, otherwise the balance of the team is a problem. So, tactically, now he is ready.
“Loftus-Cheek is without his back problem for the first time this season so could train every day for the last 20 days. He played very well and scored a wonderful goal. After 75 minutes he had a little problem with his hamstring — nothing serious — but tomorrow I want to be sure about the situation with his back.
“That’s the big problem, with his back. I have to say another thing. We are talking about Callum and Ruben, but on the pitch I was impressed by the performance of Christensen. I want to speak also about Christensen because, in the last period, he played five or six matches really very well.”
Asked if the trio can put themselves at the heart of Chelsea’s future, Sarri replied: “I hope so. I think so, and I hope so, because they are, at the moment, very important players. But the potential is higher. So, in the future, they can become top players. So I think, for this team, the future could be good.”
Sarri also thanked Chelsea supporters for refraining from chanting against him and focusing their energies on supporting the team.
“The atmosphere in Stamford Bridge was wonderful,” he added. “The fans helped the players for 90 minutes, I think. It’s easy when you win 3-0, but the atmosphere was wonderful. We have to say thank you to our fans for their help.
“The match was not easy. We played very well and, at the end, it seems to have been very easy. But I think we deserved to win, deserved to win 3-0.
“We played a very good match, I think, with the right level of enthusiasm, the right level of intensity, for 75 minutes. Of course not in the last 15 minutes, but I think we deserved to win 3-0.”
When it was put to him that the presence of Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek and Christensen on the pitch may have contributed to the more positive mood, he said: “I think that Callum, that Ruben and Christensen — he’s not English, but it’s the same because he’s a player from our academy — are very important for the club, for the technical staff and the staff.”
Sarri has been keen to manage expectations of Hudson-Odoi even as excitement around the 18-year-old’s talent has grown, and he stopped short of saying that the winger will keep his place when West Ham visit Stamford Bridge on Monday.
“Callum is on the left, the best of Hazard is on the left, the best of Willian is on the left, but I have only one left,” he explained. “I’m sorry, but… So two of the three can play, of course, but one has to adapt himself on the other side, as Callum did in this match for 80 minutes.
“He is happy, but I told him that he missed a very easy goal in the first half. He has to stay with his feet on the floor.
“He smiled. He’s a good boy. Of course, now, he can risk stopping to improve because he can risk thinking that he is a player at 100 percent, but that’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. He can become one of the best players in Europe.”