Has Andreas Christensen become a victim of Sarri ball?
On 20th August 2017, Andreas Christensen completed 90 minutes in a Premier League game for the first time. That match was heralded as a victory for the Chelsea youth system. Sadly for the Dane, his breakthrough coincided with a major modal change at Chelsea.
Much has been said of the Chelsea policy when it comes to homegrown talents. Much more will be said. It’ll change nothing. The Blues will still control the largest untapped talent pool in the country. They’ll ship out thirty or more of that talent on loan every season. There was a time when Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne were involved in the setup at Stamford Bridge.
In Courtois, Chelsea managed to reap some dividends until he jumped ship as a superstar. For the other Belgians though, they slipped through Chelsea’s large fingers, only to come back and give it an excruciating bite. There were many more who couldn’t break the brick wall of Chelsea’s first team. They too had to find a way out. Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ryan Bertrand and Patrick Bamford are Englishmen who suffered a similar fate to the Belgians. Meanwhile, the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi continue to wallow in the system.
The point being established is that, for every gem unearthed by the Chelsea academy, many more are ignorantly left to rot. Supposedly, one major discovery was Christensen.
John Terry is seen as one big win for the Chelsea youth setup The Chelsea legend joined the Blues at age 14 but went on to write a big part of the club’s most successful era. Christensen joined the Chelsea academy one year older than Terry when he did. Their paths seemed to follow the same trajectory. Like Terry, he spent a few years with the academy before being loaned out to gain more playing time and experience.
Before temporally departing Stamford Bridge, Christensen had won hearts in the Chelsea first team with his commendable performances in the academy. Praises fell on him like rain. One came from his idol:
“Believe me, I am sure that he will be a top footballer and one of the future men for Chelsea…”For me, Andreas is a brilliant footballer and he will certainly get his chance at Chelsea.” – Terry per SkySports.
It took three years for Terry’s prophecy to come true. Christensen had gone and proved his mettle in Germany. Returning as a proven star with 82 first team appearances and seven goals to brandish. Conte unquestionably installed the towering Dane in his back three.
Over the course of 2017-18, Chelsea laboured fruitlessly to get a handle on their title defence. Through the struggle, the 22-year-old remained a first-team regular. He wasn’t doing badly either. According to Whoscored, in the 27 League games Christensen featured in, he posted a 93% pass accuracy, made 30 blocks, 38 interceptions following a tackle success rate of 83%.
Inevitably, the regime change in Chelsea’s dugout was bound to bear some consequences for a few players. Is Christensen one of those? Certainly, a few big names at the club know their position in the first team is up in the air. Gary Cahill is one. So is Cesc Fabregas. But then, just when we thought Chelsea has found the next Terry, it's back to multi-million-pound centre-backs holding their fort.
Maurizio Sarri is famed for his seductive style of play – nicknamed ‘Sarri ball. The Italian encourages his players to wear out their opponents with superior possession. Unlike Conte, Sarri favours a back-four, which leaves room for two centre-halves as opposed to three with the departed gaffer.
Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz have won the two available slots in the opening four weeks of the season. Clearly, Sarri thinks the pair is the best in his attack-minded system. Where does that leave Christensen? An unused substitute in all four Chelsea games.
Let’s go back to Terry’s prophecy in 2014 now. Christensen’s time will come. His passing stats from last season proves he’s a ball-playing defender and should be suited for Sarri ball. For now though, no joy.