We are in the final stages of the Premier League season and given our position in the table, most fans feel Frank has done incredibly well so far given the circumstances surrounding the team he inherited. However, Lampard will be aware that all of the hard work put in from the beginning of the season would mean very little if a Champions League spot isn’t secured.
While there have been several bright sparks in Lampard’s first season as Chelsea manager, one issue that has constantly been a stain in this new-look team has been their below average defensive performances. It’s no secret that Chelsea has been one of the more defensively vulnerable teams in the Premier League this season, and while there can be a debate as to whether it’s due to the system or personnel, one simply cannot deny that it hasn’t been up to the normal Chelsea standard. Personally, I attribute this to both the system and the players involved, which this season has shown just how far the level of quality in Chelsea’s defence has declined over recent years.
The West Ham game clearly showed how vulnerable the Blues are not just in set pieces, but in general play when it comes to trying to thwart an opposition attack. Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger both had a forgettable game as they were each taken for a ride and bullied by the Hammers attackers.
While one might agree that the team hasn’t had the best centre backs in a long time, some fans have found it strange that Christensen hasn’t really stamped his authority this season, despite many claiming this was going to be his most important season. Deemed to be the future of Chelsea by the legendary John Terry back in 2014, Christensen has shown shades of brilliance over the years, but has unfortunately never really captured the consistency required to confirm JT’s bold claims.
When he first burst onto the scene, Christensen was praised for his calm and collective head on the field, and was termed to be more of an elegant defender than the usually physical and robust ones often associated with the Premier League. While he possesses the aura of a modern-day ball-playing defender, he is often criticised for his lack of physical domination and lack of vocal command, something that Frank himself called him out for earlier in this season.
Now as much of a talent that Christensen really is, is the inconsistency hurting his development, along with the rest of the team’s progress?
The 23-year-old has often been susceptible to switching off at crucial moments of the game, putting the team and himself in a great deal of trouble. While the Dane is still developing, is it now time that Blues fan expect him to overcome his issues given he’s in his 3rd year of Chelsea’s senior team?
Since the restart, there have been a couple of instances where Christensen seemed to switch off. For example, in the most recent match against Crystal Palace, his failure to track Benteke almost cost Chelsea all 3 points. Fortunately his CB partner Kurt ‘the wall’ Zouma bailed him out with an emphatic last-ditch slide tackle.
Now 23 might be considered too early to judge a defender, especially a centre back, given how players in this position often peak at a late age when compared to other players. However, it’s the mentality of this player that has often come under the radar in the last few seasons, particularly in recent times. While he may not be the only one to be criticised of this, he certainly is part of the vulnerable group and needs to rise above these shortcomings if he desires to be the player JT and co thinks he can be.
When Christensen returned from his fruitful 2 year loan spell in 2017 after playing in the Bundesliga for Borussia Monchengladbach, the player appeared confident and ready for the next big challenge in his career, that being, stepping up as a regular Chelsea player.
This is what he was quoted as saying by Chelsea echo back in 2017, “I have come back to Chelsea a better player than the one that left about two years ago. I played about 80 games in two seasons and I have a lot more experience. I have a bit more toughness, more mental than physical.”
The player, as said by himself, was more ready in the mental aspect of the game which was considered to be very impressive back then for a 20-year-old.
Fast forward to 2018, Christensen was enjoying an abundance of game time under the then Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. He had established himself as an important cog in the Italian’s defence, and was one of the bright sparks that season. However, when asked about his game time he had this to say, “You can’t get comfortable here. Even with the players we have here now you can’t feel comfortable, the players we have in the changing room. That is why it is so mentally hard because every time you play you have to perform and you can’t afford to make major mistakes,” he was quoted as saying by the Independent.
For a player who claimed his mental strength to be astute just over a year ago and then to come out with a statement as aforementioned, one really ponders if the player really was strong in the first place.
Conte’s second season had a lot of controversy surrounding him and the team, and one could argue that this distraction might have played a part on his mental wellbeing as well. However, the story wasn’t much different the following season either when the departing Conte was replaced by fellow Italian Maurizio Sarri.
Christensen found minutes hard to come by under Sarri in the Premier League, however he was a mainstay when it came to the team’s Europa League success that season. On one occasion he left Sarri fuming when he decided to rush to the washroom in the final 15 minutes of a Premier League match against Arsenal while the final substitution was still yet to be made. He wasn’t seen until the match was over as he finally walked into the dressing room only to be confronted by the manager.
Later Sarri clarified in a press conference that it was something he wasn’t really angry about contrary to what was portrayed in the media. The Tribuna quoted him as saying, “No, not at all. You know very well that on the matchday Christensen has always stomach ache. I don’t know the reason but I think he’s very nervous and he had to go to the toilet so I don’t know what to say.”
Again, for someone who is considered to be extremely composed and collective, is it really a tale worth telling?
It is worth highlighting that Christensen is probably Chelsea’s best ‘ball playing’ centre back and this is one of the reasons why Lampard has preferred him in most of his matches, particularly since the restart. He is an important tool when playing out from the back and that has actually helped him in nailing down a starting spot. However, even Lampard called him out after that disastrous away game against Everton where the entire team was horrific to watch, but Christensen in particular was bullied the entire match and unfortunately didn’t show the right intent or the courage to recover at any stage of the game. He then went on to put in some sublime performances over the next few matches but again, hasn’t been consistent enough in his displays to give confidence that he is a genuine starting CB for Chelsea.
One criticism aimed at him is that he isn’t physically intimidating. While it would be difficult to argue against this statement, it really isn’t a major cause for concern as his smart reading of the play and incredible ball-playing skills are seen to offset his lack of physical presence. It’s one of the reasons why he has done relatively well against technical sides than when facing sides that are more physical in their approach. A classic example would be his performance against Manchester City at home to that of West Ham United away or even Everton.
Christensen like every other current Chelsea centre back is an exceptional secondary choice. However, just like the rest of our centre backs, he struggles due to the lack of support of a commanding player next to him. The fact that he is expected to be the future of Chelsea’s defence adds all the more pressure to the 23-year-old, which is in no way good for the Danish international as fans are aware of his seemingly fragile nature, especially when he’s under pressure.
Is it time to step up?
Whether one likes it or not, Christensen’s inconsistency and lack of ability to handle pressure have been a cause of concern for quite some time now. The story has been the same under Frank as well. While he is not the only defender to be under the spotlight, the fact that potential-wise Christensen is ahead of some of our other centre backs should give him a push in understanding the need of the hour. At 23, he has already played a decent amount of games, yet keeps committing the same type of errors which doesn’t leave a good impression on the fans or the manager. Further, as the Blues are experiencing an exciting resurrection in the coming seasons, no player is safe when it comes to keeping their position in this constantly evolving team.
While there are several areas that Christensen needs to improve if he is to be considered as one of the best in the league, it will be his consistency and mentality that will be most closely watched upon by the fans and the critics alike. Given the nature of the Premier League demands players to be at their absolute best when it comes to the abovementioned aspects, and especially when playing for a club like Chelsea that demands constant success, there definitely cannot be any sort of compromise on these attributes. One can only hope that a talent like Christensen gets back to the drawing board and quickly assesses his game to get his act together as the modern-day football shows little mercy to the players who don’t help their cause.
Source: The Chelsea Echo website, Independent, Tribuna, Bleacher Report, Givemesport
Written by: Shyam
Edited by: Ross-John (RJ) Bonaccorsi & Jai Mcintosh