Forget David Luiz: Why Andreas Christensen was the real story on Sunday for Chelsea
David Luiz's future prospects at Chelsea dominate the papers, but was it just a slip of Antonio Conte's tongue? Dan Levene looks at the real story brewing...
Calm and composed, Andreas Christensen is starting to look like one of the revelations of Chelsea's season. Though to most at Stamford Bridge that will come as little surprise.
Sunday's visit of Jose Mourinho's side was arguably the biggest test so far for the defender: sat behind a perhaps 80% fit N'Golo Kante, and up against the league's most expensive forward. And he was more to equal to it – it was in no small part thanks to Christensen that Romelu Lukaku managed not one touch in the Chelsea box.
Christensen's slow-burn emergence has been one of the key hidden narratives of the season, and so many unanswered questions became a matter of clarity on Sunday.
Chelsea's Brazilian defender David Luiz (R) arrives with a member of the coaching staff for a training session at Chelsea's Cobham training facilityGetty Images
The dropping of Luiz created a real buzz: no injury; entirely tactical; had he and Antonio Conte had a falling out? Not so, insisted the Italian during his post-match press conference, despite live words from his TV interview of minutes before appearing to indicate some deeper problem.
His response, when asked if Luiz had a Chelsea future, appeared pretty inflammatory. Until, that is you realise Conte is somewhat prone to answering many questions with a quiet 'err, I don’t know', as he searches for the English to give a reasoned response.
Following that up with “He has to work really hard otherwise he is on the bench or in the stand,” was to give the pretty much matter-of-fact response he always gives when asked about competition for places.
Yes, reporters were probably right to sniff a bit of blood in the water at Luiz’s demotion not to the bench, but to the stands. But he'll be back – Chelsea still very much need the player during this campaign.
One of the ironies of Christensen's rise to prominence, meanwhile, is that so many people had been expecting it to happen in a different way.
The calls for the young Dane to replace Gary Cahill in the starting XI have missed the point that Conte doesn't see the 21-year-old that sort of player. Christensen-for-Luiz is like for like to the Italian: the ball-playing man at the heart of the three.
He had earlier impressed in that role, as all around him struggled, during the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. Since then he has largely been protected: Conte seemingly sympathetic to the fragile development of a young defender, while world-class defensive cover is absent.
Perhaps it was the kamikaze 3-3 draw with Roma, at Stamford Bridge, that convinced Christensen and Kante should come as a pair – as that clearly seems to be his thinking.
Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City puts pressure on Andreas Christensen of ChelseaGetty Images
That is part of the renewal Conte seems to be rolling-out in his side right now: he told us again after United about the plummeting average age of the team.
Luiz is 30, and has a year and a half left on his contract. That is a year younger than Cahill, but the Englishman's own replacement is less combat-ready. Whether that turns out to be the on-loan Kurt Zouma, the man Chelsea had hoped, or AN Other bought for millions, time will tell. But there is a definite feel that the old defensive order is once again ready to turn here.
Chelsea have waited a long while for it: nurturing and developing. But it is starting to look like Christensen's time has really arrived. Luiz may be making the headlines today, but you can be sure another guy will be all over the back pages very soon.