Christensen: From the next John Terry to defensive liability

When Chelsea’s ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ himself picked a successor to his crown as the club’s leading centre half, fans everywhere sat up and took notice. So, when John Terry described Andreas Christensen as a ‘top footballer’ and ‘one of the future men for Chelsea’ back in 2014, many would have expected him to have nailed down a starting slot long before now. Terry even went so far as to say that the Danish international should be ‘hungry to take my place in the team’, but that is something that has never truly materialised. After dropping to fourth choice centre back at the club and following his latest high-profile error against Aston Villa, it is time to question whether Christensen has a future at Stamford Bridge. 

With Chelsea 1-0 up against Aston Villa at the break and looking for a win to nudge them out of a mini crisis, an early goal conceded in controversial fashion was hardly what Frank Lampard was looking for. Yet with Aston Villa attacking on the break, Christensen went down following contact from nimble playmaker Jack Grealish as both contested possession of the ball. Play continuedbut whilst the much slighter Grealish got up and carried on, the 6-foot 1-inch-tall centre back remained on the floor. Half a minute later Villa had scored as a stretched Chelsea defence did not have the numbers to commit a man to mark Anwar El Ghazi and prevent him from freely knocking in an equaliser at the back post. The match finished 1-1 and to make matters even worse for Christensen, his hero rather bluntly put him down on social media following the final whistle. Replying to a comment under his latest Instagram post accusing Aston Villa of poor sportsmanship in continuing when the opposition were a man down, Terry (currently assistant manager at Villa) stated that his former teammate should have ‘got up’. Having already been sent off for a rugby-tackle style foul on Sadio Mane at Stamford Bridge earlier this season – costing his side in a 2-0 loss to the reigning Champions – the Dane is hardly inspiring confidence in Chelsea fans.  

None of this was in the script when Antonio Conte integrated Christensen into a three-man defence in the 2017/18 season. Coming off the back of an excellent couple of seasons on loan in the Bundesliga at Borussia Monchengladbach, a then 21-year-old Christensen finally got his chance in a Chelsea shirt, just as Terry was leaving Stamford Bridge following his move to Aston Villa. 23 starts in all competitions gave fans a reason to be excited in the youngster, who was one of a few bright sparks in an otherwise horrible campaign as Conte left the London side in a mess. Quickly it became apparent that Christensen would become the side’s new David Luiz figure, as the fiery Brazilian was shunned from the side following a falling out with the manager. The Dane’s distribution was likened to Luiz, and he stood out as one of the finest passers of the ball in the league, with a 93.4% passing accuracy across the season. However, playing as part of a defensive three covered up a multitude of failing in the Dane’s game which were exposed when new coach Maurizio Sarri implemented a back four.

Christensen has always stood out for his excellent ability with the ball at his feet, Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

The evidence was perhaps there all along that Christensen was not the centre back Chelsea fans always hoped he could be. His break-out season’s tackle success rate of 53.3% was low but not disastrous, as Antonio Rudiger and Gary Cahill were there to help him out. However, Sarri did not have faith in the former prodigy to lead his defence and so Christensen made only 6 starts in the Premier League that season, having to be content with being a Europa League regular. His tackling ability appeared to decline further, with only 42% of his attempted challenges being successful in the league that season. For context, Chelsea’s Thiago Silva has completed 64% of his challenges so far this season. Christensen was rapidly building a reputation for being a wonderful passer capable of playing out from the back, but a player who was far too light-weight and error-prone to be successful in the Premier League.

Low on confidence, a season of being constantly thrown in and dragged out of Lampard’s side in 2019/20 certainly was not what Christensen would have hoped for. Whilst his fellow academy graduates Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham made themselves indispensable to the side with consistently excellent performances, Christensen became a scapegoat for one of the worst Chelsea defences in the Premier League era, as the side concede 54 goals (over three times more than the vintage of the 2004/05 season). Starting 21 league games, he would be dropped for between one and five games on five separate occasions. This lack of consistent game time seemed to spell the end for Christensen.

The signing of Thiago Silva, ‘O Monstro’ on a free from PSG this summer has transformed the Chelsea defence into a different beast. With Kurt Zouma looking back to his rejuvenated best and performing at scarcely believable levels in the air, game time is hard to come by for the rest of the Blue’s centre backs. Despite being left out of the match day squad for 4 consecutive league games, Rudiger seems to be back in favour with Lampard and currently sits above Christensen in the pecking order, which could result in him starting a fair few games across the season as the 36-year-old Silva’s game time is closely managed. The delayed European Championships are due to commence this summer and Christensen will be desperate for a run of game time to stake his claim as a starter at the tournament. However, such an opportunity seems unlikely to arise at Chelsea, so could we be seeing the last of the Dane at Stamford Bridge?

Much has been made of Christensen’s seeming lack of physicality, often leading to him being labelled as ‘light weight’, Photo Credit: Football 365

A tidy, ball-playing centre back will always draw attention on the continent, so it is no surprise to see Christensen linked with top 6 sides in Spain, France and Germany (via the Athletic). It will be a great shame to see such a talented academy graduate depart but it could be for the best. Fikayo Tomori is already frustrated with his lack of first team football and Marc Guehi is developing at a frightening rate on loan at Swansea this season and will surely soon be knocking on Lampard’s door asking for regular game time.

Ultimately Christensen’s lack of physicality and seeming inability to mark big, physical forwards in the ilk of Michail Antonio and Christian Benteke, has been his undoing. For every excellent performance against the likes of Manchester City at home last season (playing without a recognised centre forward, allowing Christensen to excel against physically weaker opponents), there was a horror show (see West Ham, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and more). His Chelsea story began when John Terry’s came to an end and perhaps fans were too keen to see their captain’s boots filled immediately and the pressure got to a young Christensen, but for whatever reason he has been unable to fulfil his massive potential. Maybe one day we will see him excelling at one of Europe’s biggest sides, but for now it is difficult to see a future in which Christensen remains at his boyhood club.

Written by Danny New

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