Analysis

How Andreas Christensen has put behind adversity to become an asset for both club & country

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It is never easy for a Chelsea academy graduate to come up through the ranks and nail down a spot in the first team, but Andreas Christensen has made it possible against all odds and is now one of the most influential and in-form defenders at the club. The Danish defender has been at Chelsea since 2012 after joining from Brøndby as a 15-year-old, and has almost completed a decade with the West London outfit – but just as with any other aspiring Cobham graduate, the journey has not exactly been a smooth one, and things have not always looked positive for him.

After making his senior professional debut for the club in 2014, Christensen had to follow the much-explored loan route as he went to Borussia Mönchengladbach for two seasons. His search for the regular game time was successful, as the Dane developed into a trusted cog of the Foals’ defence over two seasons – even gathering some priceless experience playing in the Champions League. His successful spell in Germany would eventually become one of the landmark moments in the history of the club’s loan system, as when Christensen returned to England – he was immediately given a chance to try and impress head coach Antonio Conte.

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A red card for captain Gary Cahill in the first league outing of the ’17/18 season saw Christensen get his chance much earlier than he expected it to come. Christensen knew that nailing down a starting spot would not be easy – knowing that John Terry was the last Cobham graduate to make an impact in the Chelsea first team – but he took his chances remarkably well until a series of errors later that season saw him demoted to the bench. After Conte was sacked at the end of the season, new manager Maurizio Sarri did not trust Christensen enough to reinstate him as a regular – although he did start most matches, as well as the final in Chelsea’s successful Europa League campaign.

Christensen continued to find himself on the fringes under the next Chelsea manager in Frank Lampard, as it was under Lampard when the Dane faced the most adverse days of his career at Stamford Bridge. After being sent off against Liverpool in the second league outing of the ‘20/21 season, Christensen spent most of the first half of the season on the bench and almost saw his promise fade out – until Lampard’s unceremonious sacking saw Thomas Tuchel ascending to the helm in January. The German brought in fresh enthusiasm to the club and offered opportunities to everyone in the squad, which proved to be the turning point of Christensen’s Chelsea career.

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Andreas Christensen came on to replace an injured Thiago Silva at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in March and held his own at the back as Chelsea emerged winners. In the absence of the Brazilian veteran, a revitalized Christensen went on to start in important league games against Manchester United and Liverpool – the Dane heavily impressed in both games, and took the Man of the Match award home after a win at Anfield. Playing in the middle of a back three flanked by Antonio Rüdiger and César Azpilicueta, Christensen showed glimpses of what was his breakthrough season in a familiar role – and his form helped him gain Tuchel’s trust, something that separated Tuchel from his cynical predecessors. A confident Andreas Christensen – almost a new player altogether – ended up being a mainstay of Chelsea’s run to the UEFA Champions League final, starting and impressing against Atlético Madrid, Porto, and Real Madrid.

But with Thiago Silva returning in time for the Champions League final, Christensen had to settle for a starting spot on the bench for Chelsea’s date with Manchester City in Porto. But as fate would have it, Silva pulled up injured before the halftime whistle – and Christensen was set for an evening that would seal his status as an established starter in this Chelsea system. It was a coming-of-age performance from the Dane who swept up all possible danger against a relentless Pep Guardiola side, and more often than not – was willing to put his body on the line in what was a heroic night for the Blues at the Estadio do Dragão. Christensen who was often accused of not having the physicality or the mentality to be the difference in the big games made his impact show in the biggest game in club football – and helped Chelsea lift the holy grail of European football in style.

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Fresh off continental glory at club level, Christensen was off to represent Denmark in the 2020 European Championship – and he impressed both as a defender as well as in midfield whenever required, to help the Vikings go deeper into the competition than anybody expected them to. After their first match of the group stage ended in a shock loss amidst the Christian Eriksen incident, Denmark showed collective grit and determination to get as far as the last four. Despite the hardships, it proved to be a special campaign for every Dane involved – but none more so than Christensen, who netted one of the goals of the tournament against Russia, in their final group stage match that Denmark had to win in order to keep their knock-out stage hopes alive. Yet to get his first Chelsea goal, the man who does not score many sent an absolute rocket of a shot into the top left corner from 30 yards. Often accused of not being the most confident character on the pitch, Christensen oozed self-belief and confidence as he thumped his chest in celebration and vanished into the Danish mob.

A semi-final loss against England saw Denmark bow out valiantly, while it was a sad ending to the tournament for Christensen who had to be taken off because of an injury in the second half. But regardless, the Dane could be very proud of the season he had for club and country – which established him as a go-to option for both Tuchel and Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand. Now 25 years old, Christensen has finally come of age and is proving to be the defender that the Chelsea hierarchy always knew he could be – a calm and composed libero who can sweep up the danger and be quite adept at ball progression equally well. Christensen is not only good at playing out of the back under pressure, but his ability to read the game also helps him intercept a lot of balls.

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Amongst centre-backs in the top five European leagues and European competitions over the past year, Christensen attempted 68.96 passes per 90 minutes at a pass completion rate of 92.6% – ranking him in the 94th percentile. Andreas Christensen also played 5.80 passes under pressure and completed 52.64 carries per 90 minutes, offering a very comfortable presence at the back for club and country. Even though Christensen is not the hardest tackler one will ever see, he has a knack for sniffing out danger and often steps into midfield to intercept a loose ball – the Dane notched up an average of 2.10 interceptions per 90 minutes last season ranking him in the 90th percentile.

The introduction to the new season has seen Christensen continue to be an influential figure for both club and country, helping Chelsea and Denmark keep 36 clean sheets in their last 48 games with the Dane on the pitch. Fresh off his second consecutive Man of the Match performance at Anfield and three consecutive clean sheets for his country, Christensen is realising his potential more and more with every passing game. Christensen could be credited as one of the flag-bearers of the youth revolution at Chelsea, and along with Mason Mount and Reece James, is a role model for any aspiring academy kid who dreams of making it in the first team. And it would not be an understatement to say that he was tipped for success from long ago – as none other than club legend John Terry had high words of praise for the Dane as far back as in 2014.

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“Believe me, I am sure that he will be a top footballer and one of the future men for Chelsea,” said the former Chelsea captain in 2014, and seven years on from his debut – Christensen has matured as a defender and is growing into his legendary predecessor’s shoes just as he would have hoped to. There have been times of adversity for the defender at Stamford Bridge, but if he continues to perform in the same rich vein, Terry’s prophecy will come true sooner rather than later – and the Dane can be the Blues’ rock at the back for years to come.

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