If you told Andreas Christensen at the start of this year that he would go on to lead Chelsea to a Champions League title and be a Euro 2020 semi-finalist, not even he would have believed you.
When the New Year bells rang, Christensen had played just five Premier League matches for Frank Lampard’s Blues in 2020-21. Any indication that the 25-year-old was going to have a year to remember was a long way away.
But the arrival of Thomas Tuchel at Stamford Bridge has been the biggest turning point in his career to date. The German coach has put the Danish defender at the heart of his three-man defence and he has kicked on to become a key player for club and country.
Andreas Christensen is Denmark’s secret weapon ahead of their Euro 2020 tie with England
The centre-back (right) is key man for his country, who have reached the Euro 2020 semi-finals
When he lines up against England in Wednesday’s Euro 2020 semi-final, Christensen will be in the form of his life – and the Three Lions need to recognise him as a player to contain at Wembley.
When Tuchel arrived at Chelsea in late January, he changed the Blues’ formation form a flat back four to his favourite 3-4-2-1 formation.
Injury problems to veteran defender Thiago Silva, the clear leader at the back for the west Londoners, should have plunged Chelsea into crisis – but the performances of stand-in Christensen meant the Brazilian’s absence was barely noticed.
Placed as the middle man of the Blues back three, Christensen started 10 out of Chelsea’s last 15 Premier League matches, with the top-four chasing side failing to lose any of those games.
Christensen was barely used by Chelsea but helped them win the Champions League this year
When Silva returned from injury for a home tie with West Brom, he dislodged the Danish defender from the starting line-up but the Brazilian was sent off in the first-half as Chelsea lost 5-2 – and Christensen had the spot he deserved back.
Only a minor ligament injury ruled him out of Chelsea’s run-in and a starting spot in the Champions League final, but when Silva picked up a first-half injury in the European showpiece match in Porto – Tuchel knew who to call upon.
The substitute defender played nearly an hour of that final as Chelsea kept an impressive clean sheet to win 1-0. Tuchel was grateful to have his trusted man back fit again.
Speaking about Christensen, Tuchel said in May: ‘He is crucial in the back three, he gives us a lot of options because he can play all three positions and he’s very calm, but don’t misjudge him for being calm, he is a very tough one to play against.
The 25-year-old (left) was made a key player when Thomas Tuchel arrived at Chelsea this year
CHELSEA DEFENDER STATS 2020/21
Blocks per 90
Andreas Christensen: 0.8 (Rank: 1st*)
Thiago Silva: 0.6
Antonio Rudiger: 0.5
Kurt Zouma: 0.4
Clearances per 90
Kurt Zouma: 3.8
Thiago Silva: 3.6
Andreas Christensen: 2.9 (Rank: 3rd)
Antonio Rudiger: 2.7
Interceptions per 90
Thiago Silva: 1.4
Andreas Christensen: 1.2 (Rank 4th)
Kurt Zouma: 1.2
Antonio Rudiger: 0.9
* Stats are for all competitions – rank indicates overall rank in Chelsea squad
‘He uses his body very well, he is very strong in individual duels, he is good on the ball.
‘The role in the back three suits him very well and I was very impressed by his performances.’
Christensen’s defensive work at Chelsea under Tuchel has been highly noted. No other Blues player averaged more blocks per game than the 25-year-old, while only Silva and Kurt Zouma can rival him in terms of clearances and interceptions.
But it’s the centre back’s ball carrying ability and attacking play which makes him a danger for Gareth Southgate’s England on Wednesday.
For Denmark, Christensen often steps into midfield to affect play in order to overload the central area.
This influence is summarised by Christensen’s wondergoal against Russia in their final Euro 2020 group game. The Chelsea man came from nowhere to unleash a sensational first-time strike to put his country 3-1 up – and kickstart their tournament campaign after two defeats which now leaves them one victory away from the final.
The defender’s work has been recognised by his team-mates, with centre back partner Jannik Vestergaard of Southampton claiming a Danish back three would not be possible without Christensen.
He said before Denmark’s 2-1 quarter-final win over Czech Republic: ‘Playing with three is nothing new for some of us, and we have also done it for some periods on the national team in the qualification and in the Nations League.
‘We also do it a lot in the clubs, where AC has just won the Champions League in a treble chain, so it comes to us quite naturally.
Christensen is a goal threat for Denmark and scored a thunderbolt in their 4-1 win over Russia
The Chelsea man likes to step out of a back three and march into midfield and affect play
‘The special thing is that AC is so flexible that he can also go up and play a midfield position, where the rest of us then go down and play with four. It is the system in which we are trained and raised.
‘It comes very naturally to us, but it is of course AC’s readiness for change that makes it possible to change so fluently during the match.’
While Christensen likes to affect the play at the top end of the pitch, he certainly has the speed to get back.
The Denmark defender has clocked the seventh-fastest sprint at the tournament so far at 33.3 km/h – faster than any time recorded by the likes of Raheem Sterling and Kylian Mbappe.
Denmark’s Christensen has recorded the seventh fastest sprint speed at Euro 2020 so far
The Chelsea man is also not far off the fastest times recorded at Euro 2020 so far, with Italy’s Leonardo Spinazzola and Hungary’s Loic Nego tied at the top at 33.8km/h.
These statistics will not ease the mind of in-form England striker Harry Kane, who was hoping to get past the Denmark defender to help fire the Three Lions to their first tournament final since 1966.
But the England captain, who likes to drop deep to get on the ball, will have to retreat several more yards on Wednesday night to catch up with the advancing Christensen.