Maurizio Sarri is set to hand England winger Callum Hudson-Odoi his first Premier League start in one of Chelsea’s next two matches.
Sarri has received heavy criticism for his reluctance to play the talented 18-year-old, with unhappy Blues fans chanting the player’s name during Sunday’s unconvincing 2-1 win at Cardiff.
Hudson-Odoi, who remained on the bench in south Wales, made his senior international debut last month and underlined his potential with an exciting cameo against Czech Republic followed by an impressive 90 minutes in Montenegro.
After being restricted to just 119 top-flight minutes in six substitute appearances under Sarri this season, the teenager finally appears on the verge of his full debut ahead of successive home games against Brighton and West Ham.
“First of all, in pre-season, after four or five training sessions, I realised that Callum was really a player with very great potential,” said head coach Sarri, whose team play Chris Hughton’s Seagulls on Wednesday.
“In my opinion, in that moment, he wasn’t ready to play at this level.
“But during this season he has improved and now he’s ready to play.
“I know Callum very well and I want him to improve more because his potential is high and Callum is always in my mind.
“In my opinion, he is our future and now he is ready to play. Probably he will start tomorrow or in the next match.
“Firstly, I want to see the condition of all the players. But of course, he is in my mind.”
Sarri’s job security has gradually come under threat in 2019 following an impressive 18-match unbeaten run in all competitions at the start of his tenure.
After leaving Hudson-Odoi, Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante on the bench and going a goal down at the Cardiff City Stadium, the Italian faced chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ and ‘we want Sarri out’ from the travelling fans.
The Blues eventually recovered to claim all three points thanks to a contentious offside goal from Cesar Azpilicueta and a stoppage-time winner from Ruben Loftus- Cheek.
Former Napoli boss Sarri, who confirmed both Kante and Hazard are likely to return to the starting XI against Brighton, insists he is unconcerned by the disgruntlement among the fanbase and believes he can transform Chelsea into title challengers.
“I am not happy, of course, but I am not concerned. It can happen,” he said.
“I can understand very well the frustration of our fans. But, in the end, we are not doing so badly.
“Probably we started very well, and so our fans thought everything was really very easy for us.
“But it’s not true. We have to work, to improve.
“I think that, if you take a coach with my characteristics, you have to work, improve day by day and week by week. I think that, in the future, we will be able to fight for the top.”
Sarri, whose possession-based ‘Sarri-ball’ style of play has proved unpopular in recent months, also called for supporters to get behind his players during matches as they chase a top-four finish and Champions League qualification.
“We want to try to change their opinion,” the 60-year-old continued.
“I think that they have to help the players during the match. After the match, they can say anything, but during the match, I hope they will be able to help my players.
“At the moment, we are a very good group. So I think it’s not helpful for my players. I am 60, so I can understand. But when I was 25, probably it was different.”