The curious case of Andreas Christensen
So far this season we’ve seen many changes in personnel at the centre-back position. When Lampard and David Luiz had a bit of a clash in preseason, and Luiz subsequently asked to be moved to Arsenal, I immediately suspected there would be continued turbulence with the centre-backs. Luiz was another who split opinion, but he was one of the oldest and most successful in the dressing room, and could have been a very influential member of the squad. As the season progresses, there really are no surprises that such a young team has fallen victim to mental fragility. Unfortunately, this has resulted in us dropping points, and as fans we find this unacceptable.
With Rudiger being out most of the season, we’ve seen plenty of switches between Tomori, Zouma and Christensen. Fans have preferences for certain players in certain positions; for example, Pulisic over Hudson Odoi, Alonso over Emerson or anything over Kepa given how few clean sheets we’ve had this season. But I think the most debated position has been at centre back. One player spent a lot of time out of favour and that was AC. Now for those of you have followed my account, you will know that I try to avoid using an overload of statistics, and instead try to keep my view in the purest form: the eye test. While the numbers may point to less flaws in our defence than perceived, it is obvious that there are fundamental issues with how we defend. Firstly, we aren’t very good at defending set pieces, and that has been a major source of conceded goals. When you take this into account, some may point to the fragility of Andreas Christensen as the reason he’s not first choice. However, it is somewhat a myth that he is inferior aerially to Tomori, and after the Newcastle game Rudiger is the last person I’d start bragging about winning headers. In terms of positional awareness, both Zouma and Tomori are suspect to lapses in concentration and/or losing their mark and allowing them to find a dangerous and superior position in the box. Christensen, on the other hand, is adept at spotting a potential dangerous situation and appropriately positions himself. Spending time working under defensive specialist Antonio Conte was undoubtedly beneficial to him, and taught him a lot about concentration and positioning. Yet after a simple mistake against Everton, he was immediately vilified and questioned as to whether or not he should be a Chelsea player at all. Considering what we are seeing under Frank Lampard this season and the use of youth players, it is remarkable at how easily fans are willing to discard AC. If Ruben Loftus-Cheek is still considered youth-which some people still do even at the age of 24-then the same should apply for Andreas. Sometimes with defenders, they perform better when placed with a complimentary defender. When partnered with Luiz under Sarri, AC always seemed to look assured and showed his potential. Even more comical is the fact that, when he wasn’t being used, the clamour for him to be in the starting XI was almost as loud as it was for Hudson-Odoi (who had been in a similar situation). So what has changed the tune? He’s certainly not had enough continuity since then to make the assumption he isn’t good enough, so I assume since Lampard doesn’t necessarily prefer him, then fans must follow like a herd of sheep. Since the FA Cup tie against Forest, Christensen has seemingly become a starter and hasn’t put a foot wrong since. Yet there’s been an abscense of praise for him compared to the uproar other academy players receive for good performances.
When the January window opened, it was clear many wanted to sign a Virgil Van Djik-esque Centre Back; a player who would be the missing piece towards making us a juggernaut once again. (By the way, it really isn’t). Rudiger hadn’t fully returned but there wasn’t enough confidence in the other three, yet we couldn’t sign a new player without discarding one of them. So the question started being raised of who to sell, and the overwhelming opinion was that is should be Christensen. This was comical because the popular replacement being suggested was Nathan Ake, another academy product. It’s not often that Twitter entertains me, but this was staggering. Ake is nowhere near the polished product at Centre Back, and would take some serious coaching to help him reach that status (which is the exact same as Christensen). Furthermore, the quality level between the two is not clear enough to assume Ake would be a better option at this time. Essentially, we would be replacing potential with potential. This to me was the peak disrespect towards AC and where I felt much sympathy for him. Nevertheless, Rudiger returned from injury, the defensive errors continued, and Lampard turned back to AC and the quality has once again been on display. Now the narrative has moved on to someone else: Kepa and the attacking positions. Centre Back has now-ironically-become a low-priority concern. That smooth transition away from pressure is metaphoric of how Christensen plays, and the aura he brings to our defence. Persist with him and it will be infectious alongside his Centre Back partner. So if we are still after a major Centre Back (like Koulibaly for example) we shouldn’t be looking to replace Andreas, but instead, his partner. Give them midfielders and attackers who can finish off games when the opportunity presents itself and they will take care of the rest. Keeping in mind that any combination of players will include Reece James, you’ll undoubtedly see the makings of a seven/eight year partnership at an incredibly high level.
So whilst I’m yet to crack the case as to why Christensen is treated differently, I certainly don’t expect it to last for long. I am confident in saying that we will see more stability at the back, the more Christensen is on pitch.