Benching David Luiz was a masterstroke from Antonio Conte
Chelsea is often criticized for their treatment of the young players. No club has as many talented players under their name while, at the same time, not having those players with them. It is a classic case of keeping the best for yourself, more because you don’t want someone else to lay their hands on it before you do and less because you actually need it.
Because, who knows, they might as well need one of them someday, right?
It seems as though Chelsea’s plan is to buy all the potentially best young players and then loan them out to the branches of European clubs around the continent – most notably Vitesse Arnhem – and then rarely ever use them in their own first-team because they also have to fit in the more expensive, big-name buys.
However, there has been an anomaly to this trend – Andreas Christensen.
The David Luiz conundrum
Before I speak about Andreas Christensen and how he is being hailed as the second-coming of Christ among Chelsea aficionados, I need to address the issue surrounding the much-maligned noodle-haired Brazilian named David Luiz.
When Antonio Conte was appointed the manager of Chelsea in 2016, he wanted to reinforce his defence by signing players who could actually defend – which is one of the reasons I can never understand why he chose David Luiz in the first place.
However, we can cut the former Italy boss some slack because his plan A targets were Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus and Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli. Obviously, those were just dead-ends as, according to reports, he didn’t get enough financial backing (!!!) from the board to complete those transfers.
So he had to resort to the back-up plan to his back-up plan – and the signing of David Luiz was, hence, sanctioned.
But let’s stop here for a while, sit back, lean on what’s behind and think: why on this god-forsaken potentially-dystopian world did the former Juventus boss not opt for Andreas Christensen in the first place? It’s not as though Christensen hadn’t proven himself; he had already played a season in German top-flight as a first-choice defender and did exceedingly well for Gladbach.
Perhaps it wasn’t enough to convince Conte back then. And perhaps it wasn’t enough to convince him even in this window as he went ahead and signed Antonio Rudiger from Roma. Nevertheless, he saw light after a handful of screw-ups from David Luiz.
It is difficult to understand the type of player David Luiz is. Sometimes, it feels like he is a midfielder playing in defence and would do well if he had defenders covering for him. This feeling only intensified after a solid season last year but has been thrown into a quagmire this season.
Bringing up the most recent example which actually forced Conte to do what he should have done a long time ago, David Luiz’s performance against Roma both at home – as a midfielder – and away, as a defender, was horrendous, to say the least.
As a midfielder, you would think that David Luiz would shine because he had an entire backline behind to cover up for him. Instead, he spent the match running around like a toddler chasing loose balloons at his own birthday party.
At Rome, playing in the centre of a 3-man defence, the job of a sweeper/libero is not only to cover for his defenders but also to organise the backline against threats. However, David Luiz not only failed to cover for his team as Chelsea conceded 3 goals, he also couldn’t organise the defence like a libero is supposed to.
This video is a classic example of the previous claim, where a long ball to Edin Dzeko completely dismantles the Chelsea defence. You can actually clearly witness the lack of faith in Luiz as both Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta chose to close down the Bosnian instead of letting the Brazilian do that job.
As a result, the trio left acres of space for the other attackers to barge in – and Chelsea were quite lucky that they didn’t concede any more than they actually did.
A proper leader in defence would never have let that happen. Instead, he would have barked at his onrushing team-mate to mark his zone and leave him to take care of Dzeko instead.
After that game, it was clear to the Italian boss that the former Benfica man is not the player that could lead a 3-man-defence. And this led to the arrival of Chelsea’s saviour: Andreas Christensen.
Rise of Christensen gives hope to convert the anomaly into normalcy
Ever since that disastrous outing in Rome, the Blues have played two games – at home against Manchester United and away against West Brom – and managed to win both while also keeping a clean sheet in the process.
And guess who was playing in the centre of Conte’s 3-man defence? Andreas Freaking Christensen, of course. Not only has he been sublime while guarding the goalkeeper, he has also kept his two senior partners – and the backline as a whole – together, forging a proper defensive shield that any goalkeeper would love to have.
With the form that he has displayed thus far, it seems as though David Luiz's career as a first-choice defender for Chelsea is in jeopardy. While Gary Cahill hasn't been entirely convincing either - and that leaves a ray of hope for the former PSG defender to make a comeback - having the captain's armband gives the England international some leeway from Antonio Conte.
But then again, this is Antonio Conte we are speaking of.
Antonio Conte might be a man who divides opinion with his eccentric ways. But one thing that can’t be denied is his reaction to a stimulus. Like some managers, he doesn’t linger along with a system - that doesn’t work - with faith that his senior or well-trusted players will come to life and make it work like before.
He changes according to needs – and this is why he has been successful with every team that he has managed thus far. And his decision to bench Luiz in favour of Andreas Christensen might just be his best decision as the manager of Chelsea.