Is Andreas Christensen Chelsea's most exciting player?
Gary Cahill and David Luiz may be ready to return to active duty, but Andreas Christensen continues to start for Antonio Conte's Chelsea. The future certainly looks bright for the young Danish international and Chelsea youth graduate. Following a string of rock-steady performances, the sweeper is turning out to be everything he promised.
Featuring at Stamford Bridge this season following a two-year loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach, he has managed what most considered impossible. He has returned and remained in the Chelsea squad after a successful time abroad.
Every Chelsea youth graduate before him stretching back to John Terry's debut, has had to make their senior career elsewhere. That includes Bertrand Traore and Nathan Ake. It will probably include Tammy Abraham.
Do circumstances under new boss Conte suggest a better use of the youth academy? Buying Danny Drinkwater for £35 million and sending Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan would suggest otherwise. It would seem the man who coached Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, and Giorgio Chiellini for three years at Juventus then another two with the Azzurri knows an outstanding centre half when he sees one. Conte and Christensen are a match made in heaven.
Christensen returned to North London this summer to fight for his place. He did so with a wealth of Bundesliga and Champions League experience. Halfway through this season, the young Dane has displaced David Luiz in the centre of Conte's defence. The 21-year-old is trusted on the biggest stage for the Blues. Like Terry before him, the Dane is commanding in front of his own goal, and a threat at the other. In 62 appearances for Gladbach Christensen, he scored five times. Upgrading to the Premier League hasn't deterred him.
Comparisons to the Blues' legendary captain don't just come from outsiders. He was recently described by chief academy staff as Chelsea's next John Terry in a short documentary released by the club. While it will take years to match Terry's accomplishments in the shirt, Christensen certainly has the tools. His play is earning him the time.
Prone to the very occasional mistake (see against Southampton's Charlie Austin), he has trotted out a wide range of skills that can only develop with time. He displays a composure well beyond his tender age and superior to that of current club captain Gary Cahill (and perhaps Luiz). His game reading is sublime, as is his ball control and passing. The latter consistently exceeds 95% accuracy. Admittedly, he does not possess the Brazilian's attacking instincts, but his reliability puts him in better stead with the Italian perfectionist leaping about like a rabid gnome on the touchline.
If anything, the Dane is not yet sufficiently physical for the Premier League. With experience (again, see Southampton's Charlie Austin) and training, this is a characteristic he can improve. Despite this, Christensen is the first youth academy graduate to start and finish three consecutive games since, you guessed it, John Terry.
What does that say for the Blues youth academy? Is it a broken system with only the rare prospect ready for a first team breakthrough? Its recent competitive record suggests otherwise. Well then, are its young talents being stifled by the elite level of Chelsea's first team? Michy Batshuayi, stuck on the bench, then denied a penalty in an infrequent appearance on the weekend, might agree. So might Charly Musonda. Both Belgians are wonderful talents, but will either displace Eden Hazard, Willian or Pedro anytime soon? No. That Christensen has forced his way into the lineup speaks volumes to his ability.
With a tough run of fixtures upcoming, Luiz either still injured or not trusted by the manager, expect to see the young Danish talent in the side. Even with Barcelona and Manchester City on the horizon, Conte is looking to Andreas Christensen to put on the blue shirt and perform at the top level.