As Chelsea head to Germany for our final pre-season match against Borussia Monchengladbach, one Blues player is certain to receive a warm welcome to Borussia-Park.
It was at the Prussian side that Andreas Christensen cut his teeth in the professional game, during a two-year loan spell between 2015 and 2017. The Danish defender had already shown himself to be full of potential by excelling in the Chelsea Academy, helping us win the FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League in his teenage years.
However, it was in Germany that he honed that talent and developed into a Premier League defender. Borussia Monchengladbach has built a reputation in recent years as one of Europe’s best finishing schools, taking several raw talents on loan and helping them gain the experience they need to return to their parent clubs ready to take the next step in their career.
Christensen’s time there certainly backs up that reputation, despite a shaky start to life at Borussia-Park. Following a comfortable win over second-division St Pauli in the German equivalent of the FA Cup on his debut, Christensen and the rest of the defense came in for some heavy criticism when they opened their Bundesliga campaign with a 4-0 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund, and it got worse as that began a run of six consecutive losses in all competitions.
However, the turning point came when Lucien Favre was replaced as manager by Andre Schubert in September, after which Monchengladbach lost just once in the league for the rest of the year, going into the winter break well placed for Champions League qualification in fourth position.
As 2017 started well, Christensen got his name on the scoresheet in a professional match for the first time, not once, but twice in a 5-1 thrashing of Werder Bremen. However, as much as for the impact of his goals, the Dane’s colleagues were quick to point out the importance of his humble team-ethic, which saw him rejecting the fans’ calls for him to take the unlikely chance for a hat-trick, and insist on regular penalty taker Raffael converting a second-half spot kick.
The esteem Christensen was held in at the Foals, by players and supporters alike, was shown at the end of the season. After a solid second half of the campaign to secure Champions League qualification, the 20-year-old was overwhelmingly chosen as Borussia Monchengladbach’s Player of the Year, getting 50 per cent of the vote, way ahead of the 15 per cent in favour of second-placed skipper Granit Xhaka.
Sporting director Max Eberl summed up the opinions of those at Borussia-Park after seeing Christensen’s breakthrough season in Germany, when he said: ‘He’ll be a world-class player.’
By now Christensen was a fully fledged member of the Danish national team and he would retain his status as a near ever-present at club level in his second Bundesliga campaign.
With Xhaka moving to Arsenal over the summer, Christensen’s combination of defensive awareness, composure on the ball and excellent decision making also saw him occasionally filling a defensive-midfield brief for the Foals, although he was more regularly seen as a more conventional centre-back.
However, despite more impressive performances from Christensen, Borussia Monchengladbach couldn’t quite maintain the same success in 2016/17, having to settle for a mid-table finish in the Bundesliga and a tough draw pairing them with Manchester City and Barcelona ending their Champions League campaign in the group stage.
There was a cup run to enjoy, though, reaching the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal before being eliminated by Eintracht Frankfurt in a penalty shootout, plus a memorable Europa League victory over Fiorentina, with Christensen’s name on the scoresheet.
With his loan spell up, he returned to Chelsea in the summer of 2017 and a year later added our Young Player of the Year award to the individual honour he had received in Germany. The next season, he got the silverware his performances in Monchengladbach had deserved as a Europa League winner with the Blues.
While his time at Borussia-Park may not have brought any trophies, there will no doubt be plenty of happy memories flooding back for Christensen as he walks down that same tunnel again on Saturday afternoon, not to mention a big ovation waiting for him at the end of it.