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.”
Brighton boss Hughton would be grateful to see “world-class” Eden Hazard named on Chelsea’s bench for a second successive match.
Sarri made the surprise decision to rest Hazard for Sunday’s win at Cardiff.
With the London club going behind to Neil Warnock’s relegation-threatened Bluebirds, the Belgium international came on to play the final 37 minutes in south Wales.
Hazard has hit three goals in as many Premier League games against Albion and, ahead of Wednesday’s meeting at Stamford Bridge, Hughton admits he would not be disappointed if the forward was again left out of Sarri’s starting XI.
“He is, for me, a world-class player. And for how good he was a couple of seasons ago, I think he’s even improved on that,” said Hughton.
“We’ve had examples of that at our place this season, and last season where he was outstanding, probably one of the best single performances we’ve seen at the Amex.
“He’s an outstanding individual that can very much win games.
“Would we be grateful if he wasn’t playing? Yes.
“But we also know they’ve got so many good quality players to pick from.”
Hughton has demanded an improved performance from his players after a below-par display in Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to fellow strugglers Southampton dragged them back into relegation danger.
Thanks to Chelsea’s win at the Cardiff City Stadium, Albion remain five points clear of 18th-placed Cardiff.
The Seagulls have lost on all four of their previous visits to Stamford Bridge – with their only win against the Blues coming in a 1933 FA Cup tie – and Hughton expects another tough test.
“Most importantly, we want a response from our players,” said Hughton.
“If you can get a performance at one of the big clubs away from home, it gives you a chance, it keeps you in the game.
“We know that we are reliant on playing well and the opposition playing poorly – anything different to that then the top-six teams are generally always going to win.”