Gianfranco Zola insists teenage winger Callum Hudson-Odoi is not short of first-team opportunities at Chelsea.
Bayern Munich embarked upon a lengthy pursuit of the 18-year-old during the January transfer window and chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has pledged to renew the club’s interest at the end of the season.
Hudson-Odoi was reportedly set on a move to Bayern, seemingly placing an immediacy on the importance of him enjoying minutes for Maurizio Sarri’s side.
But he was not in the matchday squad for last weekend’s 6-0 thumping at Manchester City and was only granted a six-minute cameo in Thursday’s 2-1 Europa League win at Malmo.
Manchester United are up next in the FA Cup on Monday and, speaking at a pre-match news conference, assistant first-team coach Zola defended Chelsea’s use of Hudson-Odoi.
“Sorry but I disagree. He is always on the edge of the team,” he said. “As soon as there is an opportunity he plays – sometimes from the beginning, sometimes he comes on like at Malmo.
“I think the manger is giving him plenty of reasons to make him feel involved and wanted
“There are not many 18-year-olds in Europe playing for top clubs who are playing as much. There might be one.
“He is a player that we appreciate and we believe has grown up and has a bright future at this club. Maurizio likes him. The whole coaching group likes him
“You need to understand he is surrounded by top players and you have to work hard to be better than them.
“We want to make sure that he plays and keeps improving. He can still do better than he’s doing.”
Gonzalo Higuain is set for his latest outing in a Chelsea shirt, having produced mixed results since joining on loan from Juventus.
The Argentina striker scored a brace in the 5-0 Premier League win over Huddersfield Town that came in between heavy defeats on the road at Bournemouth and City.
“He’s settling well. The first game he was okay. It’s four games I think he’s played because there was also a cup game [against Sheffield Wednesday]. He’s progressing very well.
“You can see he’s a player that, when it comes to scoring goals, is very sharp. His physical condition is improving day by day and adapting to the rhythm of the Premier League will help him to be sharper
“He’s in a good place and can be better.”
Higuain’s arrival has left Olivier Giroud down the pecking order at centre-forward but Zola praised the France international’s goalscoring contribution at Malmo.
“I was very pleased for the goal that Olivier Giroud scored. He played very well in the second half,” he added.
“When Higuain came it has left him a little bit out of the team. He is a player who works hard all the time and never complains.
“I was pleased to see him score and play well.”
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