On an afternoon of frustration at the Bridge for Chelsea fans, centre-back Andreas Christensen proved a shining light once again as Manchester City controlled the game.
Kevin De Bruyne’s second half strike was enough for the visitors to claim all three points yesterday as Chelsea returned to Premier League action in woeful style. Antonio Conte’s men got their first taste of a European hangover as they failed to produce anything like the quality that they did against Madrid in midweek. The loss of Alvaro Morata mid-way through the first half proved a huge blow, as the hosts failed to sustain any pressure against Guardiola’s men.
Given the momentum of the game, Chelsea’s three central defenders were busier than usual and did well to keep City out until beyond the hour mark. New signing Antonio Rüdiger impressed, but for this piece it’ll be Andreas Christensen under the spotlight on this occasion. Taking full advantage of David Luiz’s three-match domestic suspension, the Dane has performed well against Qarabag, Nottingham Forest, Stoke and now City. He wouldn’t have been expecting such a sustained run in the side at the start of the season, but having looked so comfortable in all those games, he hasn’t done his chances of being selected again any harm at all.
Pep Guardiola was seen having a quiet word with Christensen as the two sets of players left the pitch at full-time, most likely telling him he was Chelsea’s best player in the game. If so, he wasn’t wrong. “We’re replacing Kompany in the summer, do you want a move?” may well have been slipped in too.
Christensen has been really really good today. #CFC
— Breathe Chelsea (@BreatheChels) September 30, 2017
This report is arguably slightly over-due given the very impressive display Christensen put in away at Stoke, but with Morata stealing those headlines, this analysis is as much a reflection on his season so far as it is on this specific performance.
At the age of just 21, the command and composure that Christensen has displayed over recent weeks has been phenomenal. If there was ever evidence that Chelsea’s youth system does in fact work, then he is it. Two years out on loan playing regular top-flight football in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach has clearly taught the young man what it takes to succeed at the top level, and he seems to have brought all that experience back to the Bridge with him.
If nothing else, his notable composure yesterday was evident in the fact that he didn’t concede a single foul, or lose possession once throughout the whole game. He’ll have easier games playing in the middle of our back three, but even against a side with the quality of City, he proved how he is rarely flustered in possession, and can defend with a clear head – an under-rated quality in a highly-pressurised league.
Playing in the middle, he won’t be relied upon to make as many passes or advances forward as perhaps Cesar Azpilicueta does on a regular basis, but it is still equally important to know that he can play football from deep, as this is something that this team has prided itself on for years now.
Another hugely impressive part of his game yesterday was his positioning as he demonstrated experience way beyond his years. With six clearances, he made more than any other man in blue, and showed Conte just how well he can read the game. Playing in the middle of the three, one of the most important pieces of judgement that he needs to show is when to commit himself to opposition danger out wide, and I thought he did that superbly. Judging it wrong is something that Gary Cahill has been guilty of this season, though he does of course play on the left of the back three, but Christensen has showed no such frailty.
Every now and again, defending with what is essentially a back five can make some players slip into a bit of complacency in defence. Being the man in the middle, you’ve got two players either side of you that can do the bulk of the work for you a lot of the time. But I thought Christensen’s maturity off the ball to remain alert to all possible dangers was outstanding in order to avoid slipping into bad habits.
In analysing this performance individually, it’s easy to forget the context in which Christensen produced it. Still under a lot of personal pressure to prove himself to his manager, and without a nailed-down spot in the XI, the youngster was coming up against one of the most feared offences in the world in the form of Man City.
However, largely thanks to his experience in Germany, and the confidence that Conte has put in him both publically and privately, he looked just a comfortable as he has done every other time he’s pulled on a Chelsea shirt.
Christensen the sole obvious positive for #cfc. Calm and mobile, decent distribution. Pushing for a regular starting place surely.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) September 30, 2017
After yet another assured performance, Andreas Christensen’s age needs to be taken out of the equation now when it comes to Conte’s selection. Any man with two years of full international experience by the time he’s 21, who performs week after week, should be considered only in terms of ability rather than by his age. He’s taken his opportunity in recent games very well, and now he’s left his manager with a real dilemma as to who to pick against Crystal Palace when Premier League football returns after the international break.