In a season with a lot of negatives, it is important to celebrate and shine a spotlight on some of successes.
After the late escape to Cardiff nearly a fortnight ago, Maurizio Sarri has completely turned the tables, bringing radical change to his starting eleven, showing confidence in younger fringe players who had been ignored for a majority of the campaign.
Since changing the side at home to Brighton, Chelsea went on to win back to back league encounters, scoring five and conceding none. Albeit against mid table fodder, like West Ham – it is easy to overlook the fact the Blues had only gained two points against the Hammers in the previous three league meetings.
Bringing in fan favoured, Andreas Christensen, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi was a bold move, but one Sarri had to make. Both games proved to Sarri and those watching that this was the bulk of a new starting lineup. One that can play faster, be more creative – and most importantly, get the job done.
Sprinkle some magical Hazardry on top of all of that and suddenly things don’t look that bleak for a Chelsea side staring a miserable end to a challenging season in the face.
You can play down these results all you want, and maybe an intimidating trip to Anfield may bring Sarri’s harshest critics the outcome they desire – but seeing three academy graduates (two of English heritage) start a meaningful game, is a sight I doubted we’d see for a long time.
In a lot of cases in the modern game, young talent get their breakthroughs thanks to a coincidental chain of events which unlock the door. For Harry Kane it was Tim Sherwood’s interim reign and opportunities against lowly opposition in the Europa League group stage in 2014. For Marcus Rashford, it was a cataclysmic injury crisis that struck Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United side in 2016 that gave the young striker a start against Arsenal for him to steal the show.
However, for Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi, the chance hasn’t been as unexpected. Both players have been banging on the door all season, the latter for many years. Though it was imperative that when, if that chance came, the youngsters grabbed it with both hands, and that they did.
For Loftus-Cheek, two goals against Cardiff and Brighton have shifted him up the pecking order as a player that has suddenly become undroppable. His drive, flair and raw physicality is everything the Blues have craved for many years, a goalscoring midfielder.
Loftus-Cheek’s goals to minutes ratio, considering his continued back problems that have sidelined him, plus not being a guaranteed starter makes this output even more impressive, and puts in concrete evidence that the 23-year-old is head and shoulders above his competition in Mateo Kovačić and Ross Barkley.
In the case of Hudson-Odoi, it comes down to unpredictability and pace, something which Sarri’s side have been missing for many months. Hudson-Odoi’s natural tendency to run at the defenders, plus acting like a naturally wide winger has helped create more space for the likes of Hazard, Loftus-Cheek and Olivier Giroud who profited off a perfect ball to unlock Brighton’s stubborn resistance.
The 18-year-old’s potential has been widely spoken about, and with Hazard’s future up in the air, and the transfer ban still looming ominously above the club’s summer plans, its imperative Chelsea lower the age of the squads wingers, with both Willian and Pedro in their thirties.
For Andreas Christensen this season has probably been the toughest to take. Arguably making his breakthrough under Antonio Conte last season in a back three, becoming a mainstay for many months, impressing with his calm demeanour and game awareness.
Though with a change of manager and a change of formation, the Dane quickly lost his place, becoming an outcast. However, his professionalism and ability to step in when required and put in competent and encouraging performances that have finally been noticed, is an impressive trait.
What put into perspective for onlookers about Chelsea’s current squad was the lacklustre display of certain players in the “B” team away to Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday night. Despite a great cross from Willian to find an onrushing Marcus Alonso to net the winner, the display put into stark reality whose Sarri’s strongest and weakest players are.
The likes of Kovačić, Barkley and Pedro all failed to impress throughout the majority of the ninety. Even with his timely winner, Alonso’s display still left a lot to be desired. When the three subs of Hazard, Loftus-Cheek and N’Golo Kanté took to the field it was clear who Chelsea’s best talent were when called upon.
Moving onto Sunday for a massive clash with Liverpool, Maurizio has his biggest chance yet to lay down another marker about what his Chelsea side can be, look like and also usher in a long-awaited new generation that is ready to shine in the Royal Blue of west London.