Among the myriad of problems cropping up in Barcelona’s game, organisation in defence, pressing, and build-up are perhaps the most prominent ones of all. Time and again, those three quintessential aspects have been performed to a startlingly disillusioning standard, despite the Blaugrana‘s desperate attempts to combat the issue.
Evidently, the problem lies well beyond the quality of personnel, as individual pedigree remains in abundance. Where Barça face an abnormal number of obstacles is collective coordination; there is a distinct lack of understanding between teammates, resulting in chaotic, structureless football.
Nevertheless, it would be naive at the very least to suggest that the Catalans are in no need of reinforcement. On the contrary, some roles within the team necessitate a revamp.
One such area is that of central defence. Ronald Araujo seems to be the sole reliable presence, with Eric Garcia following suit as a youngster to bank on for the long term.
But other than that, Barcelona simply do not possess any genuinely dependable defender. Xavi’s proclivity towards a back three has forged an even further need for a change, forcing the club into the transfer market.
Given the Blaugrana’s dire financial state, finding a top-notch candidate at a reasonable price shall be an arduous task. However, one would not need to search far and wide to find the ideal target.
Andreas Christensen, at Chelsea from the age of 16, is yet to get an agreement over a contract extension set in stone, with his current deal expiring in the upcoming summer – a godsend for any club in search of a high-class central defender.
In this article, Barça Universal explores the possibility of the Dane’s arrival for free and delves into the perks of this strategic signing.
A rocky career trajectory
Having joined Chelsea as a teenager, making it to the first team was always going to prove difficult. The Blues’ renowned academy was yet to produce players of first-team material consistently, and graduates of Cobham had to go through a cobweb-like loan system to make a statement. Christensen was no different, having to spend the 15/16 and 16/17 seasons away at Borussia Monchengladbach.
Unlike many of his peers, the Dane managed to impress during that spell. He thus asserted himself as a potential starter in Antonio Conte’s side and would compete for a starting spot in the following campaigns.
Yet if there was one thing that saw his chances dwindle, it is consistency. Impeccable on his day, Christensen frequently failed to maintain his top form for long. Consequently, he soon dropped to the bench as his competitors gained ground.
January 2021 saw the advent of Thomas Tuchel, whose faith in him proved to be Andreas Christensen’s saving grace. As he has so often done with other players, the German enhanced the 25-year-old’s situational judgment, which would underpin a remarkable revival.
Under Tuchel’s wing, Andreas Christensen instantly assumed a role of great significance. It did not take him becoming a familiar presence in Chelsea’s starting XI, either. To add up to an enviable repertoire, the number 4 finally sorted out his consistency, too, making him a near-faultless option to fall back on irrespective of the in-game context.
Euro 2020 was a confirmation of his resurgence. Christensen found himself in the epicentre of Denmark’s extraordinary charge to the semifinals, being a key in Kasper Hjulmand’s brilliantly cohesive unit. By that point, he had brought his career well back on track.
Staying with the Champions League winners would have made complete sense, given the importance of his role. Nevertheless, talks between the player’s camp and Chelsea have reached a stalemate as of late. Consequently, his continuity is hanging by a thread, inviting other clubs onto the scene of action.
Whatever the reasons behind this peculiar case, the prospect of Andreas Christensen’s arrival is irresistible for anyone.
Christensen – Barça: A match made in heaven?
Barcelona, continuously in the hunt for a central defender, are yet to interfere with proceedings regarding Christensen’s contract. However, once January comes about, it is imperative that the garnet and blue make the most out of this golden opportunity to convince the 25-year-old to embark on the club’s ambitious project.
To put it simply, Andreas Christensen is the perfect target for the Catalans. He possesses every quality to improve the team and still has ample time to fine-tune his few defects. Unrealistic though the signing may now seem, the board should pull out all the stops to secure his signature.
It is vital to comprehend that Barcelona’s targets are limited, for what they are looking for is particular profiles. If one had to pinpoint the primary demands, those would branch out into two categories – dexterity on the ball and proactivity.
Those two themselves split into a multitude of qualities; the more the player has in his locker, the better. Christensen epitomises the mould that Barça’s targets should fit.
In possession, he is a magnet for the ball. With a delightful first touch, he opens up his body so as to increase his options. One glance at his surroundings suffices to evaluate the situation (an indication of his quality), making Christensen near-flawless in his judgment.
His passing is sublime, regardless of the situation. He does not hesitate to take risks, ranking in the 91st percentile when it comes to passes under pressure, according to fbref. He has an eye for progression, constantly seeking a line-breaking ball to unsettle the opposition. Further, the number 4 particularly excels in his long-range passing, capable of picking out his partner at any distance.
And even when there are no options available, Christensen never succumbs to the pressure of the moment. He is again found flying high in terms of carries and progressive carries, courtesy of his immaculate ball control and magnificent body orientation. Thus, he manages to generate space for his teammates to arrive into and encourages better progression.
What is worth noting is the maturity that the former Gladbach loanee displays. He never makes rash decisions, anticipating the opponent’s actions and reacting accordingly.
Timing is another virtue in Christensen’s locker — it is to his credit that his passes never catch his teammates flat-footed, falling perfectly on their move. Such composure makes him error-free, with a practically clear record in errors, dispossessions and miscontrols.
Moreover, the Chelsea academy graduate is a proficient presser. Similar to Eric Garcia, he is a proactive defender, clearing the danger before that becomes imminent. Picking out his mark early on, he sticks to the opponent, preventing a half-turn towards the face of the goal. By maintaining a healthy distance, Christensen eliminates any options of direct progression.
This not only clogs up the circulation but also forces the opposition to divert their build-up towards the flanks or to its initiator. It is in those areas that it is easier to suffocate the opponent and counterattack. And even should that not pay off, what is achieved is a drop-off in tempo and eradication of axial threat.
Here, one would notice the occasional blunder on Christensen’s part. He can sometimes lose composure and get caught flat-footed on the turnover. Yet even now, such errors are rapidly decreasing in number and should gradually vanish.
In defensive actions, proactivity again stands out as an invaluable trait. Christensen is patient, lurking in search of the right moment to intervene. And once he does, he is ruthless. Thomas Tuchel’s protege never leaves his business unfinished – one way or the other, the ball will inevitably end up in his clutches. Despite that, he is far from erratic, being very measured and composed in his exits out of position.
Christensen is equally adept at spatial defence. His astounding awareness permits him to detect any run in behind, and he is just as quick to react and adjust his positioning. Thus, Christensen calmly deals with the danger that could have otherwise proved lethal. A staggering 2.43 interceptions per 90 is only the tip of the iceberg, behind which lay a heap of proactive work.
Blemishes in his game still sometimes shine through, however. The Chelsea centre-half particularly struggles in aerial duelling, where he often fails to avail himself of his enviable 188cm frame.
Distanced ground duels are also a weakness of his, though the past year has seen significant improvement in that regard. And, crucially, he still has more than enough time to make further headway, given his age.
Evidently, there are few options better than Christensen, and he is the only one within Barcelona’s financial reach.
An urgent issue
Andreas Christensen should be a top priority for the upcoming summer, but securing his services shall not be easy. While the player has already set a foot away from Stamford Bridge, Chelsea may still have a card up their sleeve.
You see, should their attempts not pay dividends, the Blues would get perilously close to losing their entire defensive backbone: Andreas Christensen, Toni Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta, all for free. It is therefore vital that they seal the continuity of at least one of them for the sake of their own good.
They have until January, when players will be eligible to enter talks with third parties, to strike a deal.
In Christensen’s case, it looks unlikely that an agreement shall be reached quickly enough. Nevertheless, Barça would have to get a move on in order to seal the 25-year-old’s signature.
There will inevitably be a number of suitors keen on the Dane, with many of them in much better financial shape. Regardless of the eventual outcome, though, the option of Christensen is an appealing one, to say the least. Barcelona should, a priori, have at least some funds to mount a challenge for his signature. A fascinating prospect.