Maurizio Sarri praised Callum Hudson-Odoi after the the 18-year-old marked his first Chelsea start with a goal in a 4-0 rout of 10-man PAOK but remains to be convinced that the academy prospect is ready for Premier League football.
Hudson-Odoi beat PAOK goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis at his near post with a low shot in the 60th minute for his first senior goal and become the Europa League’s youngest scorer since 2009, celebrating the moment in front of a delighted Stamford Bridge.
Two goals from Olivier Giroud had already put Chelsea in control against PAOK, who saw defender Yevhen Khacheridi dismissed for bringing down the Frenchman in the eighth minute, and substitute Alvaro Morata added a fourth when he nodded in Hudson-Odoi’s inviting cross with 12 minutes remaining.
After the match Sarri was qualified in his praise of Hudson-Odoi, reminding the youngster of where he expects him to improve.
“He played very well, but the type of match was for his characteristics,” Sarri said. “They were down to 10 men after seven minutes, so we needed only to play in the offensive phase. He’s really very able to do this. But I want to see him in matches where we also need him in the defensive phase.
“I don’t know if he is able [to be ready] for the Premier League at 18, especially in a big team. If he [was] already ready now to make a difference in a team like Chelsea, he would be the best player in Europe in two years.”
Speaking to BT Sport about his memorable evening, Hudson-Odoi said: “I couldn’t believe I got the opportunity to start. Every time I got the ball I wanted to do my stuff.
“I couldn’t believe it when I scored, to see the crowd jumping was a dream. I will keep striving to play for my club. Hopefully more opportunities will come. I am always eager to play but it is the coach’s decision. I will celebrate tonight with my family.”
Sarri believes a “mental problem” with their approach to matches has hampered Chelsea in recent weeks, culminating in last Saturday’s comprehensive loss to rivals Tottenham, and the Italian was particularly satisfied to see a markedly different attitude against PAOK.
“I think that, first of all, we approached the match very well,” Sarri said. “I am very happy with this because, in the last three matches, we had big problems to get into the match.
“It was really very good, especially because, before the match, we knew very well that we were first in our group after the result of BATE Borisov. So it wasn’t very easy to find a big motivation. For this, I’m really very happy.”