With 14 Premier League goals between them this season, many of the plaudits for Chelsea's recent upturn in fortunes has been laid at the feet of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata. Along with N'Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas they have undoubtedly been the driving force behind a haul of 19 points from the last 21 available but another of their teammates has been quietly effective behind them. So quiet, in fact, that it seems many outside of the Chelsea fraternity are blissfully unaware.
There have been high hopes for Andreas Christensen ever since he signed for Chelsea as a 15-year-old in 2012. He made his first-team debut in 2014 but clearly the making of him as a footballer were the two years that he spent learning his trade on loan with Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga. Playing consistently at the top level and facing the cream of Europe in the Champions League has seen him evolve from a talented prospect into one capable of cutting it among the superstars of the Stamford Bridge dressing room. This is one example of Chelsea's controversial loan system bearing considerable fruit and provides a template that hopefully Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham will follow through their loan spells away.
Even in light of Christensen's undoubted potential, it is unlikely that even his most loyal advocates would have foreseen him commanding a place in the first-choice Chelsea defence before Christmas. That he has assumed David Luiz's place in the centre is a particular feather in his cap. The Brazilian confounded all the doubters when he re-signed for the Blues in the summer of 2016 by exhibiting a maturity and leadership that some felt was absent during his first spell at the club. And yet in Dec. 2017 it is Luiz looking on from the bench while Christensen glides effortlessly across the back line.
Of course, Luiz is currently out with a knee injury, which partially explains why the young Dane is currently the man in possession of the shirt. Another mitigating factor has been the injury crisis that struck the midfield earlier this season along with the tactical decision to put an extra body in the middle of the park. In those instances it was Luiz that was pushed further forward allowing Christensen to fill his place. And the 21-year-old has also clearly benefitted from the spat between Luiz and Antonio Conte after the 3-3 home draw with Roma in which he was withdrawn despite having scored in a decent individual performance.
But despite everything seemingly falling neatly into place, it is Christensen that has taken full advantage. Strong opponents have posed him a few problems with Tottenham's Harry Kane and Roma's Edin Dzeko furthering his education but he has taken every experience on board and appears to be learning from any mistakes made.
From day one he has been an excellent reader of the play, a facet that is obviously important for a centre-back but absolutely crucial for the central member of a back three where much of your brief is to cover for your teammates mistakes. It speaks of somebody with natural talent and a good footballing brain, essential qualities for somebody hoping to make it to the top of the football tree.
What has been just as encouraging is seeing both his game and his confidence develop over the past couple of months. He now moves around the pitch with the air of somebody who expects to be involved rather than one that is simply pleased to be there. Against Newcastle on Saturday, Christensen even showcased two more progressive elements to his game that he has kept largely under wraps until now. In the first half there was an excellent header from 12-yards out that was desperately unlucky to hit the post. In the second, he channelled his inner Luiz by striding forward 40 yards with the ball at his feet before playing an inch-perfect pass into Victor Moses whose cross was only just turned wide by a Newcastle defender.
Maybe the most impressive aspect of Christensen's play, however, is his composure. While he might embark on the odd foray upfield if the space opens up before him, he is rarely seen rushing out of position to curtail potential danger. He sees himself as the last line of defence rather than the one that must be involved wherever possible, an area where he differs slightly from Luiz. That is not to criticise the senior man, the two have contrasting styles, but it is not often one sees a young defender assume so much responsibility and come through each challenge virtually unscathed.
The future certainly looks bright for Christensen though it must be remembered that he has started just eight times in the Premier League. There will be greater challenges ahead and he will have to meet them if he is to keep Luiz out of the team but for now the young pretender occupies the throne.