A crucial step in Andreas Christensen’s path to becoming the elite European defender he is now was taken at Borussia Monchengladbach, the club where he spent two very successful seasons on loan and who we meet in our final friendly fixture today.
It was the summer of 2015 when our Danish defender headed to North Rhine-Westphalia to join the historic German side who had just finished third in the Bundesliga. Christensen, then 19, had made three appearances for our senior team and was handed the opportunity to feature regularly in one of Europe’s most competitive divisions, and for a side playing Champions League football.
He grabbed it with both hands. Christensen’s performances in the heart of defence earned him Gladbach’s Player of the Year award, and he subsequently spent a second successful season on loan before returning to Chelsea and making his mark at Stamford Bridge.
We caught up with Andreas ahead of the trip to his old stomping ground to ask him about his time at Gladbach, the stadium we’ll be playing in later, and why this friendly will be an important test of our tactical shape…
How do you reflect on your time at Borussia Monchengladbach?
It was very good. I enjoyed being there and playing football there. Everything was so local. You had Dusseldorf which was a big city 20 minutes away. I lived in Monchengladbach in an area where some of the players lived. Because Monchengladbach is not the biggest city, so much is about football. When you go to the shop, you’d see the players’ faces on different things, you’d see flags out the cars, flags on every little shop.
At the same time, when you went out with the players, people were so nice and you could still be private. I enjoyed the whole experience of being there.
How much did it help with your development as a player?
A lot. I could feel in the first couple of games it was big step because I had only played youth team football and a handful of cup games for Chelsea before that. You gain a lot from training with the first team at Chelsea, but game-time is important, and for me stepping up from playing in the Youth Cup or the UEFA Youth League, it was a big step going directly into the team and playing in the Bundesliga.
The football on the pitch was quick, a lot of back and forth. I learned a lot from that. You’d be put in difficult situations as a back four, especially as it was so new to me at the time.
And you were joining a good side…
Yeah, they had just qualified for the Champions League, but two years before they didn’t finish good at all.
We lost the first five and were thinking ‘oh no, what’s going to happen’, but then we didn’t lose for the next 15. That whole journey from being last to ending up fourth and qualifying for the Champions League again was great. Even the second season we finished sixth and had a run in Europe. They were two great seasons.
What were the stadiums and atmospheres like in Germany?
I only played the last league game [in 2014/15] and cup games for Chelsea, so that whole stadium experience thing was quite new. In Germany the stadiums are big. Gladbach there are 55,000 and it is pretty much full every weekend. Getting used to that is such a good feeling.
The culture is very good. Everyone meets up at the stadium before and drinks German beers, you can drink in the stands, so the whole atmosphere is very lively. In Germany they have one stand that is singing all the songs and the others join in. That whole feeling was new to me at the time and it was great.
Are you still in touch with anyone there?
Yeah, I keep in touch with the players that are still there. When I was there we were four Scandinavian players. I was lucky my team-mates were not bad at English at all, so that made it easier.
They have got a lot of new players now. They have got a very young team who want to express themselves. That comes with German football as well because it’s so back and forth. It’s really about believing in yourself and the way you play, and just going forward and going for it. We can expect a hard game and a very quick one as well.
You must be excited to be returning?
I am. It will be very nice. As I said, I didn’t really play first team football before I went there, so it was my first two seasons where I could really express myself at that level. I have done four first team seasons now and half of them have been there, so It’s still a place that means a lot to me.
Finally, let’s talk about this pre-season at Chelsea. How’s it been going for you?
It’s been good. I know all of the new coaches. I trained alongside the boss a fair bit. My last season with Dermot [Drummy] with the Under-23s, Jody [Morris] was joining in at that time. Joe [Edwards] I’d had from the youth team. Chris Jones has obviously been here recently.
People are enjoying a lot of the football we are trying to play, a possession game, me included. We are trying to get fit and we are getting there, but at the same time we want to play football. It has been about getting fit and now we start to get the results and really see how we are going to play.
It is still pre-season, but in our minds we have to now be at the level we want to be at for the start of the league. It’s going to be exciting to see where we’re at.