Chelsea are approaching a crossroads under Maurizio Sarri. They remain in all the cup competitions, therefore their season is far from over, but recent results have been a worry. They have been humiliated against Bournemouth and Manchester City, with the manager openly criticising the mentality of the players. This has been a problem that has affected the Blues for a long time and it is now time for change. They have one of the finest youth academies at their disposal and a recruitment team that is excellent at finding young talent to bring in. They have to start using that.
Under Antonio Conte, there were signs that this was finally going to happen, albeit fleeting ones. Andreas Christensen was the main beneficiary after an impressive loan spell in the Bundesliga. He was being hyped as one of the best young defenders in the game and those comments weren’t incorrect. Last season, he played 27 times in the Premier League and was arguably Chelsea’s best defender over the course of the campaign. However, he has only featured in two league games under Sarri and that is a worry.
Christensen wasn’t perfect last season and he did make a couple of notable errors. However, he is a young defender learning his game and they can be forgiven if a long term view is taken. His replacement this season has been David Luiz. The Brazilian is a gifted technician on the ball, but he is error-prone and supporters have been reminded of that during recent matches. Unlike Christensen, the 31-year-old is unlikely to get better and eradicate this side of his game.
It is one thing for Sarri to criticise the players’ mentality, but it is troubling that he continues to select the same individuals rather than put his faith in the talented young core at the club. During the last season, Christensen averaged 2.4 ball recoveries per game, completed 93.4 of his passes and won 2.1 aerial duels per game. He showed that he could thrive in every aspect of the game and his potential as a ball-playing centre back.
Although Sarri can be forgiven for not selecting Callum Hudson-Odoi or Ethan Ampadu for their lack of experience, he can’t be given the same leeway for not putting Christensen on the pitch ahead of David Luiz. The Danish international has proven his ability in the Bundesliga and the Premier League, despite being only 22.
If he isn’t given a chance over the coming weeks in big matches, a core of European clubs will begin to take interest as there won’t be a shortage of destinations for Christensen in the summer.
During recent years, Chelsea have been focused so much on keeping hold of the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian that they aren’t realising top young talent continues to depart the club for better things. Mohamed Salah and Kevin de Bruyne are the best examples of that, but there is likely to be more to add to that list over the coming years.
In terms of young players at the club currently, the focus is on Hudson-Odoi following interest from Bayern Munich. Christensen’s lack of opportunity has escaped the publicity, but it still poses a major problem for Chelsea. They need to start giving him more opportunities.