The topic of young players vying to establish themselves at Chelsea has been ubiquitous in football discourse. Over recent years, the West London team have enjoyed a period of unparalleled success at youth level and given the sheer number of players that are contracted to the club – 40 players are currently out on loan – the law of averages suggests that at least one player will make the grade at Chelsea.
Nonetheless, aside from Thibaut Courtois who effectively received his tutelage at Atletico Madrid, only Andreas Christensen has successfully graduated from the Blues’ academy to feature prominently in their first-team in recent years. Once again, his progression was aided by a loan, having spent a two-years in the Bundesliga. Christensen was mightily impressive for Borussia Mönchengladbach’s and he was named their player of the year during his inaugural season.
During that first campaign with Borussia Mönchengladbach, the Danish international contributed purposefully as the club secured Champions League participation with a commendable fourth-place finish in Germany’s top-flight. Christensen impressed over the course of his 82 appearances in Germany, and subsequently, he returned to Chelsea.
Although that the Dane was forced to remain patient at the start of last season, he eventually earnt Antonio Conte’s trust and displaced David Luiz in Chelsea’s back-three, where he was mostly effective.
Aside from his significant mistakes against Barcelona and Manchester City – a reminder of his relative inexperience – his first Chelsea season was primarily positive, with his technical quality and tremendous ability to read play, earning him considerable applause among supporters. His commanding displays warranted the accolade of being named Chelsea’s young player of the year last season.
Despite attaining 40 appearances for the Blues last season, and featuring prominently in all competitions, he has yet to feature for Maurizio Sarri this campaign. The Italian’s admission that he prefers to introduce attacking options from the substitutes bench complicates defenders’ chances of impressing their new manager. With Chelsea’s involvement in the Europa League starting this Thursday, one senses that Andreas Christensen will have to rely on cup competitions to present his case to start frequently for Sarri. But why has the Blues manager opted to favour David Luiz over Christensen?
To have a player of David Luiz’s experience and insight is beneficial when starting life at a new club, especially while considering that the Chelsea position is Maurizio Sarri’s first venture overseas. It’s well-publicised that the 31-year-old is an admired presence in the Chelsea dressing room and having amassed 203 appearances for the FA Cup winners, he certainly understands the ethos of the club.
Although, given Sarri’s desired parameters for a centre-half, Andreas Christensen should be viewed as the best-equipped player to partner Antonio Rüdiger. The 22-year-old is tremendously comfortable with the ball at his feet, and he flaunts valuable intercepting ability. He also flaunts excellent passing ability, and he’s able to break the lines with his refined vision.
This isn’t to suggest that David Luiz is incapable, the 31-year-old has returned to the Chelsea picture with consummate professionalism having been ousted by Conte for much of last season. Also, Sarri’s system encourages Luiz to display his primary strengths, such as playing out from the back, with his comprehensive range of passes or by advancing with the ball at his feet.
That said, throughout his career, Luiz has been criticised for his lapses in concentration and his propensity to make mistakes, a judgement that has been applicable during his appearances this season. The 31-year-old effectively ignored the flight of the ball which allowed Joselu to score a then crucial equaliser in Chelsea’s 2-1 triumph away at Newcastle United, and the Brazilian needlessly conceded the free-kick that led to Cardiff’s opening goal at the weekend.
If Chelsea are to maintain their perfect start to the new Premier League season they can ill-afford such defensive lapses. Andreas Christensen’s first significant mistake of last season came in February, and unless Luiz can iron out his errors, then Sarri should consider displacing the Brazilian with the Danish defender.