Chelsea already have their own Mohamed Salah as Mauricio Pochettino sent clear transfer message

Mohamed Salah

Despite playing in a side that dominated for 45 minutes at Villa Park on Saturday, Mykhailo Mudryk had very little to show for it. His highlights for the match came before the break even though Chelsea found themselves 2-0 down having controlled possession, and even then he won't want to see them again.

For much of the game after their calamitous start, Mauricio Pochettino's men enjoyed spells of prolonged territorial superiority. It didn't always result in much, but it was telling that Mudryk's impact still lacked in all areas.

Just days earlier away to Arsenal he often looked like a stranger to his own teammates, failing to find positions conducive to picking up the ball. When Chelsea lost it he was of little hindrance to the red shirts moving past him in a blur.

Starting his third Premier League game in a row, and a fourth in the last five, Mudryk has failed to take the chance afforded to him by Raheem Sterling's poor form and fitness problems. He has just one goal in ten league games in 2024, and that came from the bench.

Against Villa, Pochettino opted to stick with an attack-heavy lineup with Cole Palmer moving centrally, something slightly dictated to him by the absence of Enzo Fernandez until the end of the season leaving central midfield options short. Mudryk was peripheral to nearly everything.

On the left he had space created for him by Marc Cucurella's inversion into midfield in a significant tactical shift. Rarely did he make this count, though.

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With the few times he did touch the ball - just 28 in the first half according to SofaScore - there was more frustration. In one glimmer of quality that made his fast twitch fibres irresistible to get behind, the Ukrainian cut inside onto his right food. He darted into the centre, exposing a deeper Villa backline than usual to find space and, without thinking, let fly.

The ball ended up in the stand behind the goal as it often does. It was his first real contribution to the game, though, and a reminder of the raw ingredients he does possess.

Later in the same half he carried out a similar action, this time slightly more rushed and not shaping his body towards goal. The ball moved away from him and still, with a sight of goal and an ounce of space, his one-track mind sought the shot. This time his effort was worse and sprayed off, totally skewed, towards the corner flag.

Mudryk hasn't shown much in terms of composure in these scenarios all season. It is often a dead-lift powered drive from distance without much aim or accuracy. The bursts to get the space to shoot in the first place are promising, the end result is demoralising and representative of just where he is as a player.

With an hour left to play he would touch the ball just 11 more times. After the break, whilst his teammates racked up 13 shots from 70% possession, he made only two dribbes, none of the attempts at goal, no tackles, no interceptions, one foul, and no aerial duels.

Football isn't played on paper but the stats reflect the feel of the game. Noni Madueke on the opposite flank was the catalyst and livewire to the comeback.

He had gotten the better of Lucas Digne and consistently went at the Frenchman. Even for a relatively one-footed player he posed a threat on the outside and his weaker right as well as inside onto his more wicked left. He sparked the turnaround with his neat finish - the fourth of his league season.

Mudryk touched the ball just twice in the first 20 minutes of the second half while his team were banging on Villa's door and Madueke was making inroads. That does not mean all is lost, though.

The example that has been drawn by some (optimistic) fans online is to Mohamed Salah. One of the most played clips of his brief time at Chelsea as a speedy winger in his early 20s was of a wayward shot from a Carabao Cup match at Shrewsbury that went out for a throw-in.

It mirrors the Mudryk attempt at Villa Park in more ways than one. Chelsea will now hope that the development on an individual level can be comparable as well. There were reports that Pochettino wished to try and elevate his game in the way he helped Son Heung-min at Tottenham.

The issue is that Salah was sent away from Chelsea to gain experience on loan just four months after his infamous Shrewsbury shot. He scored six times in Serie A for Fiorentina with ten starts, getting three assists along the way. He played more in that initial spell in Italy than he ever did for Chelsea.

The following year another loan, this time to Roma, and in a full campaign he managed 14 goals and six assists. Chelsea flipped him at the end of that season for profit, almost doubling their money.

Salah has gone on to make the management of him look foolish. Now, there are eyes on Mudryk with questions over if he is able to tie together his unique skillset with a sound base to build from like Salah needed.

However, progress clearly isn't linear and whereas Mudryk had played less than 2,000 senior minutes for Shakhtar Donetsk at 22, Salah clocked nearly double that with more impressive results at Basel before arriving in England. Mudryk is now 23 and at the same age Salah was starting to come into his own in European football. Mudryk is a long way from that currently unless something drastic and unforeseen clicks imminently.

There is no suggestion Chelsea will be seeking options to speed up his development via a loan similar to Salah's, but just how he responds to recent problems and form of Madueke will be intriguing.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: Mykhailo Mudryk of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on March 11, 2024 in London, England.
Mykhailo Mudryk was on target for Chelsea in their 3-2 Premier League win over Newcastle -Credit:(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Come the summer Chelsea could have a new head coach - and if not then Pochettino be looking to make improvements on his squad - and Mudryk's spot for 2024/25 campaign is uncertain. He is not yet a consistent starter and doesn't have the impact as a sub that Madueke has managed in recent weeks either.

Chelsea are likely to pursue more forwards in the next few months to as natural contingency planning. That will have to include what happens with Omari Hutchinson.

He is a right-winger unlike Mudryk, but is doing his bit to stake a real claim for first-team involvement. Since his free transfer to Chelsea from Arsenal last summer he will feel that there is little more he could have done to warrant a spot on the pre-season tour of America coming up.

The teenager stood out in the Chelsea youth sides last season and has now gone on to have a very impressive first year at senior level with Ipswich in the Championship. The Tractor Boys are still pushing for automatic promotion and Hutchinson has been a strong addition.

He has scored nine times with four assists in his 18 starts, also racking up more than 2,000 minutes and 42 total league appearances in a division tough on young players. At the same age he has bettered Eberechi Eze's output from his season as a 20/20-year-old at QPR.

There is a way to go before proving he is worth a spot with Chelsea, but it will have to be of note to Mudryk that football doesn't stand still and Hutchinson, boosted by two brilliant goals at the exact same time as Chelsea's trip to Villa, is now making some noise.

Chelsea demonstrated with Salah a previous inability to develop a left-footed right-winger. With Hutchinson they have someone grounding themselves in English football and promising to break through again. Mudryk, meanwhile, must get himself back into the conversation and be looking up to Salah sooner rather than later because coming beneath him in stature right now are some serious threats to his attacking spot.