English Premier League: Chelsea vs Brighton - The Chelsea Academy Day
Chelsea hosted Brighton on Thursday hoping to continue their late top four assault after the giant killing Wolves did their thing against Manchester United on Wednesday. The game was very important for Chelsea's Champions League ambitions and given Chelsea's barely existent history of youth promotion and Sarri's inflexible selections so far, the regular eleven in the at times frustratingly regular formation was expected.
Sarri had admitted in a previous press conference that he would have to give more minutes to his fringe players due to the tight schedule that lay ahead. However, when he named Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Andreas Christensen in the starting lineup, even the staunchest Chelsea fan must have been surprised and pleasantly so.
There was mounting pressure on Sarri to start Callum Hudson-Odoi ever since Gareth Southgate picked him for the England national team and threw him right in the deep end against Montenegro. The player's performances in the Europa League has been impressive and he seemed to deliver in the attacking areas every time he played. It could also be that his ability to beat his man in 1v1 with ease before delivering crosses into the box might have suited Olivier Giroud who was starting ahead of Gonzalo Higuain. He did exactly that by crossing for Olivier Giroud to start Chelsea's scoring.
Sarri had insisted over the season that the main problem standing in the way for Loftus-Cheek was his chronic back problem and he was more than willing to give the player more playing time. Loftus-Cheek has been Chelsea's best goal scorer from midfield despite his limited playing time and the player who had been so impressive in his loan spell at Crystal Palace last season had gone under the radar as the younger Hudson-Odoi stole the headlines. However, he reminded everyone why he was the crown jewel of an all conquering academy side as he rounded of a brilliant performance by finishing the scoring by placing a delicate curving shot into the top corner from outside the area.
In the post-match press conference, when he was rained with questions about the two aforementioned players and their future, Sarri dragged attention to Andreas Christensen, who started alongside David Luiz in central defence and kept a clean sheet. After two seasons in Bundesliga where he was Borussia Mönchengladbach's player of the season and had established himself under Antonio Conte.
Among the three academy graduates Christensen boasts the most top-level experience (including Champions League) and has a more detailed Resume. A composed centre back with an astute ability to carry the ball forward, he has been really patient under Sarri. The future was always bright for Christensen but only now does it look like it could be at Chelsea.
"Academy Day" was the term used by a very youth allergic Jose Mourinho when he gave a younger Loftus Cheek 10 minutes in a meaningless Champions League encounter. It has been sarcastically used by media and opposition fans to mock Chelsea's inability to give their youth a platform to grow. Times have changed, Chelsea are not the financial bullies that they were and with the transfer ban in hindsight, there will be more Academy Days coming up.