Chelsea's Hudson-Odoi should not be held back by age - Loftus-Cheek

LONDON -- Ruben Loftus-Cheek has said age should not be a barrier to Callum Hudson-Odoi getting more first-team opportunities at Chelsea.

Boss Maurizio Sarri has repeatedly looked to manage expectations around Hudson-Odoi's involvement, claiming the 18-year-old can do without the "dangerous" pressure he believes is being generated by supporters and sections of the media and that the winger will reach the top level when he is 22 or 23.

Hudson-Odoi came off the bench to cap a lively 12-minute cameo with Chelsea's third goal in a 3-0 victory over Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League round-of-16 first leg on Thursday. And after the match, Loftus-Cheek said talent should be the only consideration when deciding his teammate's minutes on the pitch.

"If he's good enough, he's good enough," Loftus-Cheek said of Hudson-Odoi. "I think the manager knows him well.

"He sees him in training every day and he will make the decision. But Callum is doing well at the minute and that's all you can do. I think he is doing so well now; he just wants to play. He is young, fresh, has that momentum. He is scoring so when he doesn't start and feels he should, it's part of the game.

"I've told him: 'You're at a big club, you're young, just keep your head focused and keep doing what you're doing' -- like he did against Dynamo. He came on and did well."

Hudson-Odoi submitted a formal transfer request in January after Bayern Munich bid £35 million to sign him, and fears remain that the 18-year-old will simply force his way out of Stamford Bridge this summer by threatening to run down his contract, which expires in June 2020.

Loftus-Cheek, who spent years on the fringes of Chelsea's first-team squad before joining Crystal Palace on loan in 2017, said he sympathises with his teammate.

"I know what he is going through, having been at that age in the first team as well," Loftus-Cheek said. "If I can help him do well, I'd love to do that.

"He is such a good kid and seeing him do so well I'm really happy for him -- to give him that assist felt good."

Loftus-Cheek's own attempts to break into Chelsea's starting XI under Sarri this season have been undermined by persistent back injuries, but the midfielder said he is cautiously optimistic that the worst of his fitness nightmare is behind him.

"I returned from a back injury [in December] and I still had a bit of a problem, so I came out again," he said. "When I thought it was right to return to training I did and I have had a few cameos now.

"Working with the physios they know the best things. As I'd get a niggle, they'd rule out a problem.

"It was just about ruling out all the problems to figure it out."