Pep Guardiola strode onto the Stamford Bridge pitch in purposeful fashion. The Man City head coach had just watched his players record an impressive 1-0 win courtesy of a Kevin De Bruyne goal. It was a statement victory for the side that would go on to win the 2017/18 Premier League title.
There were hugs aplenty for the jubilant City stars from Guardiola. He also doled out several commiserative handshakes to Chelsea’s stars. Yet when the Catalan approached Blues defender Andreas Christensen, his approach changed.
Guardiola embraced the Dane, leaned in close and spent ten seconds in hushed conversation with the young centre-back, who had produced an assured display in the heart of the Chelsea defence. It was yet another sign of Guardiola’s appreciation for Christensen’s talents.
“We met when I was in Germany, when I was at Gladbach and when he was at Bayern Munich, and he asked me then if I was happy,” Christensen tells football.london in an interview ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League final in which Chelsea will take on Guardiola and Man City for the biggest prize in European football.
“I told him I was enjoying my football in the Bundesliga, which was great for me because I was 18 years old at that time. Then when we met in the Premier League, he asked, ‘what about now, are you still happy?’ There wasn’t anything really to it but it was great for me as a young player. Obviously, I was happy at the time.”
Guardiola was far from alone in his admiration of Christensen’s talents. During his early teenage years, the Denmark international drew attention from clubs across Europe while in the youth system of his boyhood side Brondby, for whom his father, Sten, played as a goalkeeper.
Arsenal, Manchester City and Bayern Munich were all interested in signing Christensen at just 15 years old. Yet it was Chelsea who convinced him a switch to Stamford Bridge was the right move. A deal was announced in February 2012, just three months before the Blues would win the 2012 Champions League final.
Christensen remains a Chelsea player nine years on. His decision to leave home at such a young age has been vindicated.
“It was hard in the beginning, I’m not going to lie about that. It was more being away from friends, you can’t just call them up and go over to their house,” he explains. “It was harder for my family than for me as going aboard was something I’d always dreamt of.
“It was a little childhood dream of mine to play for the Brondby first team but I think I knew quite early I wanted to go abroad and chose Chelsea. Brondby were very understanding, they let me go for free which was great.”
Christensen’s first season at Chelsea was spent in the youth team, working with the excellent coaches at Cobham and stepping into first-team training when required.
His second saw him regularly involved with the senior squad under Jose Mourinho, who would guide the Blues to the Premier League title.
Christensen made only three appearances during that campaign but spent countless hours on the training pitches learning from the likes of John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic.
He made an impression. Back in 2014, Terry said TV2 Sporten: “Believe me, I am sure that he [Christensen] will be a top footballer and one of the future men for Chelsea.”
“At that time I appreciated it,” Christensen replies when asked if he felt such a statement put pressure on him.
“I knew it was going to be hard to get in from the youth team but with the likes of Petr Cech, JT, Ivanovic was a great role model, Cahill, [Nemanja] Matic, who was one of nicest I’ve ever met – I always thought these Serbian guys are really hard but it was the complete opposite.
“So we had a lot of people [that helped]. Didier Drogba then came back too. We had a lot of role models.”
Christensen’s innate talent was beyond doubt but he only got his break at Chelsea after a two-season loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga – during which he starred in the Nou Camp against Barcelona, receiving the highest rating loan officer Eddie Newton ever gave a performance.
Antonio Conte, having lost faith in David Luiz, placed Christensen in the heart of his back three and was rewarded with consistent performance after consistent performance. He would make 40 appearances during the 2017/18 campaign, the most he has managed in a campaign for Chelsea.
The last three seasons haven’t been simple for Christensen. His skill set appeared ideal for Maurizio Sarri’s possession game but the Italian preferred Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz in his back four.
Frank Lampard, meanwhile, often selected Kurt Zouma alongside one of Rudiger, Christensen or Fikayo Tomori last term. And competition for places was only ramped up further in the summer with the arrival of Thiago Silva.
It wasn’t until Thomas Tuchel arrived, and fate intervened, that Christensen was given a sustained run in the starting XI once more. In Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in February, the Brazil international suffered a thigh injury and had to be replaced in the middle of the back three.
Christensen was the obvious replacement. He would go on to start 17 of the following 22 matches and helped Chelsea keep 13 clean sheets. Several Blues supporters began to call him the ‘Danish Maldini’.
Yet the 25-year-old believes there is more to come. “I feel like I am getting close [to my best] but I still think I can get better,” he says. “I’ve been playing a lot and growing a lot. I don’t know what will happen in the future so I just try to enjoy every game.”
Given his performances in recent months, Christensen will understandably be hopeful of starting the Champions League final against Man City on Saturday.
The problem is that he’s not featured in Chelsea’s last four matches because of a hamstring injury sustained, somewhat ironically, against City earlier this month.
The Blues won that meeting between the two sides at the Etihad Stadium, coming from behind after Raheem Sterling had scored a controversial opener in which Christensen had suffered his injury.
“In my head, and because I could hear them celebrating, I remember thinking, ‘oh man, what a time for it to go’,” he admits. “That was my initial thought. In the days after when we had the scan, they showed it wasn’t too bad. So it was just counting the days [of his recovery].
“The plan was always to get back this week and maybe get a few minutes before the final. Fortunately, it didn’t take more time than we expected.”
Chelsea go into tomorrow’s final as underdogs. City are the reigning Premier League champions and finished 19 points ahead of the Blues. Yet that win at the Etihad and the Blues’ victory over Guardiola’s side in the FA Cup semi-final last month has given supporters hopes that another victory can be secured.
“I think we just stepped up to the occasions in both games,” Christensen says. “We have been doing well, trying to play our game. We like to have the ball but we know they like to have it as well.
“So we try to take it from them and play our game. I know people are saying we can use it [the previous two matches], but sometimes the final is just different. Anything can happen. That’s our mindset.”
Source by Football London