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Sarri & his Chelsea kids: Why we 'could' be seeing a cultural shift

COMMENT: It was his night. Eden Hazard. What a goal. What a player. But it's the sub-plots from Monday's triumph which should have Chelsea fans just as excited today...

N'Golo Kante. All flicks, tricks and turns. The Frenchman producing his best performance under Maurizio Sarri. Maybe those claims the manager can see something in the midfielder others can't actually ring true?

And Kante wasn't alone. This was Chelsea at their breakneck best. Even Jorginho found another gear. Manuel Pellegrini, the West Ham manager, would later lament their "slow start". But any opposition would've appeared sluggish last night. This was Sarri-ball on steroids. Ben Johnson eat your heart out.

And for the second game running, the Italian went with two academy graduates from the start. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Not as impactful as they were against Brighton, but they still had more than a passing influence on a first-half which blew West Ham away. A third, Andreas Christensen, had to make do with a place on the bench. But the Dane knows, after his display against the Seagulls, Sarri rates him. And wants him involved. The Italian last week insisting upon talking up his young centre-half as the buzz around Hudson-Odoi's debut threatened to overwhelm all reviews of the 3-0 victory.

"I have to say another thing," Sarri demanded. "We are talking about Callum and Ruben, but I was impressed by the performance of Christensen.

"I want to speak also about him. In the last period Christensen has played five or six matches really very well."

That he was forced to make way for Toni Rudiger shouldn't be a concern for AC. Sarri, as we've learned throughout this season, is a straightshooter. He doesn't do guff. Hyperbole. For the Italian to insist upon making public his thoughts on Christensen's performance should leave the defender with no doubts. His manager rates him. And wants him around.

The same can be said of his fellow FA Youth Cup winners Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi. Finally those five consecutive youth titles are actually showing some end product. And it's taken a 60 year-old from Naples to deliver on what Roman Abramovich and his former technical director Michael Emenalo envisioned over a decade ago. Of course, two games aren't enough to confirm a cultural shift. But with Sarri talking as he has these past few days, something is turning at Cobham.

"I think it's important Callum and Ruben and Christensen - he isn't English, but he's the same as he's an academy graduate - it's important for the club but also for the fans," said Sarri ahead of last night.

"I hope so [they can be the foundation for success at Chelsea]. I think so but I hope so. They are very important players but the potential is up so in the future they can become top players."

And on the eve of Monday's triumph, Sarri went further, dismissing concern around Chelsea's two-window transfer ban. Why? Because he has seen enough on the training pitches of Cobham to suggest his young players are ready for the responsibility.

“It is not difficult to prepare for next season because I'm really confident in my players," he insisted. “We have a lot of young players who are really good and improving. If they continue to improve, we will be a better team."

Hudson-Odoi epitomised Sarri's claims last night. Two-footed. An explosive acceleration from a standing start. As he proved against both Brighton and West Ham. A drop of a shoulder, with that pace, and he'll go past most fullbacks at this level. But it's his response to Sarri's demands - again in public - which were most impressive on Monday.

Time and again, Hudson-Odoi worked back to help his fullback Cesar Azpilicueta when the visitors had the ball. Twice in the first-half it was he who intercepted Felipe Anderson's attempts to spray a pass from one flank to the other. Hudson-Odoi was alert. Disciplined. Everything Sarri had requested when insisting "he must improve defensively" during all the England hullabaloo.

Are you watching Tammy Abraham? Mason Mount? Better yet, what about those doubters back home? They probably can't believe their eyes. Sarri playing the kids. Showing faith in players he deemed not ready at the start of the season. Just consider what Luciano Moggi, the transfer genius formerly of Juventus, has said of Chelsea's manager:

"As long as Sarri stays in Naples, Napoli will not win anything, because good players do not go there knowing that there are those who will always be selected first."

Or as Antonio Cassano, the former AS Roma and Real Madrid striker, has stated: "Sarri always plays the usual ones".

Well, you can't level such accusations at the manager today. Three wins on the bounce. And achieved with a team featuring homespun talent sprinkled with a bit of goldust.

After what we've seen this past fortnight, perhaps those predicting Sarri's demise need to revisit their script.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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