Chelsea need a strong squad – not an old squad – to finish off Dynamo Kyiv

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21: Callum Hudson-Odoi of Chelsea celebrates scoring the third goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 Second Leg match between Chelsea and Malmo FF at Stamford Bridge on February 21, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21: Callum Hudson-Odoi of Chelsea celebrates scoring the third goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 Second Leg match between Chelsea and Malmo FF at Stamford Bridge on February 21, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /
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Maurizio Sarri warned against underestimating Dynamo Kyiv, and the last two weeks of European football justify his concerns. Chelsea should field a strong squad to bury this tie, but that does not mean a squad selected based on age and experience.

Chelsea are quite right to be on guard going into their away leg against Dynamo Kyiv. The overturned storylines of European football, the Sunday league pitch conditions in Kiev and Chelsea’s patchy season thus far make their 3-0 advantage seem oddly insecure.

Maurizio Sarri reinforced this message in his pre-game press conference. Not recognizing the dangers posed by the opponent and their ground would be the psychological entry point for an upset.

"Mentally it’s a very difficult match, because we can undervalue the opponent… We need to go on the pitch with the target to win the match, not to qualify, otherwise we will be in trouble. Our target is to win the match, and qualification will be a consequence. – Chelsea FC"

He emphasized these points later in his remarks while answering a question about whether Callum Hudson-Odoi will play. He made it rather clear Hudson-Odoi will start in his usual place on the bench and may come on as a substitute.

No one expects much else from Sarri at this point in the season. Despite everyone’s hope to the contrary, Sarri’s squad selection still reflects the preferences he established last summer, often in disregard of recent performances.

Hudson-Odoi has scored in each of his last two Europa League games, including the first leg against Dynamo Kyiv. He is in form, routinely shows his intelligence and quality, and repays any trust placed in him with his effort, output and goals.

But Sarri sees his youth above all else. Regardless of how Hudson-Odoi is playing or the tactical and technical abilities he displays, Sarri sees an 18-year old. A boy in a man’s game, so to speak.

Sarri continues to conflate ability with experience. Experience is certainly necessary, but it is by no means sufficient to justify a place in the starting XI. He seems more willing to sacrifice quality for age than the reverse, and takes little account for how the XI players on the pitch complement each other. Playing a teenager on the wing barely dents the overall experience on the pitch given the other players Chelsea have.

That balance is part of the squad management Chelsea have lacked under Maurizio Sarri. When we point out how Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jadon Sancho, Vinicius, Jr., Diogo Dalot and other teenagers are playing so much more than Hudson-Odoi we tend to focus only on their respective managers’ choice to play them. We should pay more attention to how those managers compensate for the youth players’ lack of experience elsewhere on the pitch.

For every Trent Alexander-Arnold there’s a James Milner. Supporting Jadon Sancho is Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. Vinicius, Jr., is hardly alone with Luka Modric and Karim Benzema out there to guide him.

Callum Hudson-Odoi would hardly be adrift and alone with Cesar Azpilicueta, Olivier Giroud, N’Golo Kante, Antonio Rudiger and Pedro on the pitch with him. They have the experience he will someday have and, crucially, that Maurizio Sarri wants right now.

No one who calls for Chelsea to “play the youth” want Chelsea to field a side shorn of all experience, nor a side not up to the challenge in front of them. Playing the youth still means having several dozens worth of trophies out in the pitch in support of those youth players, and an XI capable of defeating the opponent.

Chelsea have enough experience in their squad to balance a teenager or two, perhaps even a first-team debutante, against most opponents. Dynamo Kyiv is just such an opponent, even if you take the most paranoid view of a 3-0 lead going into the second leg. And lest this sound like we are guilty of undervaluing this opponent, the same goes for many of Chelsea’s Premier League opponents.

Next. Reece James ready to learn from - and then replace - Cesar Azpilicueta. dark

The strength of a squad is in its balance and performance, not its age and experience.