Forgotten man Hudson-Odoi making up for lost time at Forest


Of the myriad reasons why relegation would be unthinkable for Nottingham Forest, the likelihood of a fire sale of talent ranks high on the list.

The last time they were relegated, there was a 23-year exodus before the club returned to the top division of English football.

Regular frequenters on Trentside will cite how Morgan Gibbs-White has lit up the City Ground this season. Matz Sels has brought long-overdue assurance in goal to breathe confidence into a blossoming defensive partnership in Willy Boly and Murillo.

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And yet, perhaps the individual who might suffer the most from being consigned to the Championship is a player who faces his former club this weekend, Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Forest host Chelsea on Saturday Night Football knowing their destiny is in their own hands. They secure their Premier League status for a third season since promotion if they beat Luton’s result next weekend and do not allow Burnley to gain more than a point on them.

Callum Hudson-Odoi celebrates scoring Nottingham Forest's third
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His seven Premier League goals at Forest has already surpassed the four during his entire time at Chelsea

Nuno Espirito Santo has the nucleus of a good squad, and Hudson-Odoi is the most unheralded of his group.

The sale of Brennan Johnson to Tottenham last summer for £47.5m has been front and centre in a process that concluded with Forest being docked four points for exceeding permitted losses under top-flight profitability and sustainability rules (PSR) for the period up to the end of the 2022-23 season.

But the arrival of Hudson-Odoi, effectively to help fill the attacking void left by Johnson, has proved one of the shrewdest pieces of business by any club this campaign.

Hudson-Odoi is back enjoying his football with a defined role as an inverted winger
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Hudson-Odoi is back enjoying his football with a defined role as an inverted winger

Still only 23, Hudson-Odoi cost Forest in the region of £3m with a potential further £2m in add-ons.

It looked a bargain at the time for a player who was on the radar of big clubs only a few years ago. His performances since the turn of the year have only strengthened that argument.

His double in last Saturday’s 3-1 win at Sheffield United means he has scored six goals since December 23, having started 14 games in that time. Prior to Steve Cooper’s sacking five days before Christmas, Hudson-Odoi had only made four starts.

Callum Hudson-Odoi has excelled in 2024
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Hudson-Odoi has thrived under Nuno Espirito Santo

He has now played 1,332 minutes compared to just 348 before that date. Espirito Santo’s faith is being rewarded – and the player is keen to make up for lost time.

The former Chelsea winger is coming into his own for Forest, playing as an inverted winger on the left.

His brace in South Yorkshire, where he twice cut inside and curled into the far corner, took him to seven goals for the season but he wants to deliver more.

Hudson-Odoi's seven league goals this season have come despite an xG of 2.6 (overperformed by 4.4) – only five players have outperformed their xG more this season
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Hudson-Odoi’s seven league goals this season have come despite an xG of 2.6 (overperformed by 4.4) – only five players have outperformed their xG more this season

“I want to help the team and get more goals and assists. Hopefully, there are many more to come,” he said.

“When I hit the post I was thinking, ‘is it going to go in or not?’ The more you shoot, the more chance it has of going in. I am happy to help the team.”

Ryan Yates speaking to Sky Sports on Hudson-Odoi

“He has got so much ability it is ridiculous. He is pushing every day to get his numbers up. He was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch [against Sheff Utd]. I am really pleased for him.”

Chelsea retain a sell-on clause as part of the deal, but the stage is set this weekend for the winger to provide another statement performance.

“We have still got two more games to go and we are relieved,” Hudson-Odoi added. “It is nice to get the goals and help the team but it was more important that I helped the team.

Nottingham Forest's Callum Hudson-Odoi (left) celebrates after scoring their equaliser
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Hudson-Odoi struck in either half at Bramall Lane

“We know where we are in the table and want to get out of that position. Hopefully we stay safe. The fans were fantastic and we need their support in the last two games.”

He ruptured his Achilles tendon in April 2019, bringing a very promising breakout season at Stamford Bridge to a premature conclusion. Playing in a position that is built around speed, he feared he would never play again.

The injury occurred just as he was establishing himself in Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea side, as well as the England senior team. It would force him to miss the victory over Arsenal in the Europa League final as well as the Nations League that summer with the Three Lions.

Callum Hudson-Odoi was forced off approaching half-time on Monday night
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An Achilles injury in April 2019 derailed his career

Bayern Munich had a £35m bid for turned down in 2020 but increased competition in an overflowing squad alongside his struggle with injuries meant his Chelsea career never truly took flight.

A loan move to Bayer Leverkusen in late August 2022 was viewed as a switch that suited all parties, but one goal and one assist in 20 appearances for the Bundesliga outfit left him facing an uncertain future.

He started all six of Leverkusen’s Champions League group stage games but his minutes dwindled as he fell further down the pecking order under Xabi Alonso.

08 October 2022, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Soccer: Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen - FC Schalke 04, Matchday 9, BayArena. Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso (l) gives Callum Hudson-Odoi instructions.
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Hudson-Odoi struggled to have an impact at Leverkusen

“We know how Callum can play this position between the lines very well,” said Alonso in November 2022. “He has a good first contact and can attack the last line, be aggressive but what happens after that is the most important thing. We have to work on that.”

At Forest, a consistent run of games in Espirito Santo’s starting XI has enabled him to become more ruthless in the area Alonso referred to.

Hudson-Odoi is set to make his 100th Premier League appearance on Saturday; there would be no better way to mark his century than by firing Forest to safety against the side that let him go.

Nottingham Forest vs Chelsea
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Watch Forest vs Chelsea live on Sky Sports Premier League on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm

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