'One of the best defenders out there' - Why Chelsea need to make Christensen's new contract a priority

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Andreas Christensen is enjoying the most wonderful period of his career to date, and at a most opportune time, with talks over a new Chelsea contract ongoing.

With the star of the match award in his hands, the 25-year-old left the pitch at Copenhagen's Parken Stadium on Saturday having played a pivotal role in Denmark reaching the last 16 of Euro 2020.

Indeed, in a rousing 4-1 rout of Russia, Christensen scored his best-ever goal, firing home from outside the area before cupping his ears as he wheeled away in delight.

"It’s an inside joke that runs a bit with me," he told reporters afterwards. "Because I won the trophy with the big ears [the Champions League]!"

Christensen dedicated his spectacular, long-distance strike to team-mate Christian Eriksen, who collapsed during Denmark's tournament-opener against Finland and has since been fitted with a heart-starting device to prevent any further cardiac problems.

Christensen, then, is fully focused on what's happening within his national team right now.

However, there's no doubt that he's also showing exactly why Chelsea need to make tying the centre-half down to a new deal one of their priorities during the current transfer window, even if they are primarily concerned with signing a superstar striker like Erling Haaland or Harry Kane this summer, while also considering a move for Inter wing-back Achraf Hakimi.

After all, Christensen is finally maturing into the player that everyone expected him to become after returning from his two-year loan spell with Borussia Monchengladbach in 2017 to make an immediate impact under then-Blues boss Antonio Conte.

Christensen, remember, went from the heir-apparent to John Terry to a forgotten man by the time Frank Lampard took charge in 2019.

Lampard's tenure was notable for the number of youngsters who flourished under his command but Chelsea never reached out once to Christensen's people about extending his stay at Stamford Bridge while the former Blues midfielder was at the helm.

A transfer appeared inevitable. The only trouble was that Christensen was no longer attracting interest from the likes of peak Barcelona but cash-strapped AC Milan instead.

Even then, though, the Rossoneri ended up taking Fikayo Tomori on loan from Chelsea last summer, rather than Christensen.

However, Lampard's dismissal, coupled with Thomas Tuchel's appointment as his successor, changed everything for the Dane.

Tuchel had even considered signing Christensen to replace Thiago Silva during his time in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. Hardly surprising, then, that Christensen has excelled under the German, who replaced Lampard in January.

Consequently, with less than a year remaining on his contract, Christensen is now closing in on an extension. However, while all parties want to agree on a renewal, the talks are far from complete.

Christensen certainly couldn't have done much more over the second half of last season to convince the club of his worth.

He has repeatedly demonstrated his versatility within Tuchel's 3-4-1-2 system, which is why he was able to slot so seamlessly into the defence following Thiago Silva's enforced withdrawal 39 minutes into last month's Champions League final against Manchester City.

Christensen was immense as Chelsea won 1-0 to claim the European Cup for just the second time in their history.

It was just reward for a player who had only lost his place in the Blues' starting line-up because of an injury sustained in the Premier League meeting with City towards the tail end of the season, offering further evidence of his excellent attitude.

"I think he has shown in his games for Chelsea that he is a mature player," his former Denmark team-mate Niki Zimling told Goal. "He is still young but he plays like he has been doing it forever. You don’t sense nerves or panic when he is on the ball. He looks in great shape."

Christensen has certainly benefited enormously from the greater game time he has received thanks to Tuchel. The Dane had previously struggled to maintain a high level when not playing consistently, while criticism over his lack of leadership were sometimes well-founded, given his introverted personality.

Now, though, he has found his voice, on and off the pitch. Ahead of the Champions League final, he exhibited a new level of openness by swearing several times in a candid interview with select media on his journey to the top.

Now, he is answering his nation's call. After losing Eriksen for the remainder of the tournament, Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand admitted that he needed other players to step up and Christensen did just that last weekend.

Having been given permission by Hjulmand to roam forward against Russia, Christensen conjured up one of the goals of the tournament so far to give his country a crucial two-goal advantage in Copenhagen.

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Denmark will now be hoping the centre-back proves just as influential in Saturday's last-16 showdown with Wales in Amsterdam.

"'AC' has everything that a player needs," Hjulmand told reporters. "He is one of the best defenders out there."

Indeed, for all the talk about Haaland, Kane and Hakimi, Christensen's contract extension could well prove one of Chelsea's most important summer deals.