Antonio Conte spotted something in Andreas Christensen. The then-21-year-old became a key part of Conte’s defence in 2017-18, as the Blues looked to defend their Premier League title.
In February 2018, after a crucial mistake saw Lionel Messi score in a 1-1 Champions League draw against Barcelona, the Italian said: ‘I have a lot of trust in Christensen. This player is… for Chelsea’s future for 10 or 12 years. He can also become the captain in the future.’
Slightly more than four years later, Christensen is set to leave the club on a free transfer, which seems almost inconceivable given the immense potential Conte saw in him.
But those quotes from his manager were defending him after a key error, he has never made more appearances in a season since the 40 outings he racked up during that season, and he has never captained the club in the Premier League.
Those factors perhaps indicate his time at Chelsea has not gone as well as it could have and speak to the reasons why the 25-year-old’s impending exit to Barcelona will not be universally mourned in West London.
Below, Sportsmail‘s Max Mathews analyses the situation and looks at why it means Chelsea cannot also allow Antonio Rudiger to follow him out the exit door.
Andreas Christensen won a Champions League but his Chelsea career has never quite clicked
Christensen’s highs at Chelsea have been stratospheric but he has struggled for consistency and makes mistakes – many in West London are ambivalent about the 25-year-old’s departure
Chelsea were one of many top sides to follow the 15-year-old centre half at Brondby, who spurned reported interest from Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Arsenal before signing for the Blues on a free.
After two impressive seasons on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach, Chelsea brought him back and firmly ensconced him in their first team.
A month before Conte lavished him with such effusive praise, he signed a new and improved four-and-a-half year contract, one which apparently heralded his long-term future at the club. That deal appears to be his last at Chelsea.
The Dane is set to leave for Barcelona on a free transfer at the end of the current season
With his contract running down this summer, LaLiga giants Barcelona look set to capitalise ahead of Bayern Munich, with the Dane having completed his medical, and looking set to confirm the move this week on a £5million-a-year deal.
Interestingly, Christensen is reportedly set to disappoint his father and agent Sten, who wanted him to stay in the Premier League or move to Bayern, who were offering a better financial package.
His inability to nail down a regular starting spot since that Conte season seems to prove him as a capable squad player, but not more – with 88 appearances spread across six seasons.
He has never played more than 30 league games in a season at Chelsea, having done so twice at Monchengladbach.
Certainly the lithe, rangy 6’2″ has the height needed, but he has been accused of lacking the requisite physicality and durability to fulfil the relentless schedule. The less physically demanding Spanish league might therefore suit him better.
Though Christensen is technically superb and an accomplished passer, his defensive positioning is a little suspect and he tends to get exposed in a back four, as he did when hooked at half-time in an infamous 3-0 defeat at Sheffield United in 2020.
Christensen’s statistics from his Premier League career – graphic provided by: sofascore.com
Christensen’s statistics from this Premier League season – graphic provided by: sofascore.com
It is no coincidence his best periods have come under Conte and Tuchel, in a back three which allows more defensive cover and protection against his potential lapses in concentration, with costly mistakes against Liverpool and Aston Villa in 2020 and Manchester City in May 2021 also marking his record.
His highs have been stratospheric – coming on for defensive lynchpin Thiago Silva in the 39th minute of the Champions League final against City and barely putting a foot wrong in a 1-0 win – and at his best he can be magnificent.
Chelsea, though, will argue they haven’t seen his best often enough.
Perhaps more costly than losing Christensen per se is the loss of another defender. Club stalwart Cesar Azpilicueta, 32, could also join Barcelona on a free this summer when his contract expires, with Rudiger’s deal ticking down too.
Azpilicueta, a loyal and committed servant, has been gradually phased out of the right wing-back slot by Reece James, but his reliability and consistency as a right centre-back would be missed.
Fellow Blues centre half Antonio Rudiger could also leave the club when his contract expires
Losing Christensen and possibly Cesar Azpilicueta to Barcelona and Rudiger would leave the Blues short, with Trevoh Chalobah (r) and Malang Sarr (l) among their only defensive options
Rudiger, 29, arguably the best defender at the club, is wanted by both Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, with a mooted £200,000-a-week salary likely to be too high for Chelsea, who want to avoid breaking their wage structure.
But if Christensen and Azpilicueta leave for the Nou Camp and Rudiger follows out the exit door, Chelsea’s first choice (and only) back three will be Thiago Silva – 38 in September – Trevoh Chalobah, and Malang Sarr.
Of the youngsters available, Levi Colwill is doing well on loan at Championship Huddersfield but is untested at the top level, Ethan Ampadu is talented but lightweight and Xavier Mbuyamba has never made a senior appearance in England.
Christensen leaving is not the end of the world – but Rudiger, and maybe Azpilicueta, leaving too would be highly damaging and ramp up the pressure on the club to sign a top-class centre back like Sevilla’s Jules Kounde as a replacement.