After Chelsea embarrassed Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge last year, Antonio Conte revealed what makes a successful three-man defence.
“The central defenders on the right and the left must be very fast and aggressive,” the Italian said.
“The players that play in the middle of the three must be more tactical, must reflect more and find the right position, and also call the line up and down.
“It's normal when you play with the same players. They take confidence in the role to play together.”
Chelsea’s back three, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and the particularly impressive David Luiz, has been the secret to a scintillating run that has taken them to the summit of the Premier League. But one player has been conspicuous by his absence throughout their charge towards the title: John Terry.
For all his qualities, the club captain, 36, no longer possesses the speed, aggression or positioning that Conte explains makes his defence function.
But Chelsea do have one player on their books that has these qualities in spades. His name is Andreas Christensen and he is currently plying his trade in the Bundesliga with Borussia Mönchengladbach, midway through a two-season loan from the Blues.
The Dane has been a revelation since joining Gladbach, slipping straight into Andre Schubert’s defence and being voted Gladbach’s player of the season in his debut year. Not bad for a 21-year-old.
Gladbach have admitted that they will push for Christensen on a permanent deal, and there’s been talk that the Bundesliga club are prepared to make him their club record signing, with a bid of £20m rumoured to be on the cards. Chelsea already rejected a summer bid from Gladbach, whose sporting director Max Eberl has told German newspaper Bild: "We will fight, fight, fight for Andreas".
But Gladbach face an uphill task in keeping him, as he appears a perfect fit for Conte’s team and the long-term replacement for Terry.
Not only has Christensen formed an excellent defensive partnership with Jannik Vestergaard, but he’s played successfully in a back three for Gladbach. The Danish international is comfortable on the ball, aggressive when he has to be and is very solid.
There is every indication that Christensen, whenever he eventually returns to Stamford Bridge, will compete for one of the two positions either side of Luiz, who has been key to Chelsea’s recent stability.
There was talk that Conte may recall Christensen in January to strengthen his defensive options, but as long as Chelsea’s back three remain as impenetrable as they’ve been, Christensen can continue to flourish in the Bundesliga and wait for his chance in England.
With Gladbach still fighting for European qualification, you can bet there will be a few interested onlookers as the season draws to a close. Not least, Mr Conte, as he plans for the post-Terry era at the Bridge.