Fikayo Tomori is running Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham close for story of the season so far at Chelsea, and in fact his rise has perhaps been the most impressive of the three.
Frank Lampard’s relationship with Mount always made him likely to be part of the first team this season, and over the summer it became clear from preseason games that Abraham was going to join him. Tomori on the other hand looked like he was set to be 4th choice at centre back, and perhaps even a candidate for a loan somewhere.
The defender has confounded those expectations, forcing his way into the team and putting in some masterful performances, drawing comparisons to Rio Ferdinand and Marcel Desailly along the way. His perfect blend of physical ability and technical skill in passing the ball makes him an ideal central defender in a high pressing system, and his ability to break forward with the ball has been a dangerous weapon when Chelsea have played a 343.
He’s quickly gained national recognition, had features on Match of the Day, and today he received an England call up for the first time. So far, he’s not put a foot wrong, off the pitch or on it.
But despite all that, Chelsea fans with a memory longer than a season will stay guarded before they join in the Desailly comparisons and Ballon d’Or predictions. After all, it was only this time a couple of years ago, in Antonio Conte’s second season, that Andreas Christensen was turning heads in a similar fashion.
Stepping into the wake left by David Luiz’ departure from the team – sound familiar? Christensen put in a string of sublime showings in a similar vein, in Conte’s 343. Sound familiar?
He was superb for a stretch of months, was linked to Barcelona and had his own flattering comparisons made, to Paolo Maldini or some other great Italian catennaccio iceman. Because he’s not English, the nationwide interest didn’t reach the same levels as it has with Tomori, but within Chelsea circles the word was that centre-back was sorted for ten years – and with an academy kid too. Sound familiar?
It all fell apart one night in Barcelona, of all places. The Dane played a horrible square ball to allow the Catalans to score a soft goal, and the opinion of most Chelsea supporters is that he never reached his previous level again. Since then his confidence has always looked shaky, and despite putting in regular good performances, he’s never regained that calm and composure that made him so impressive.
Tomori has had the good fortune of coming into a defence that was in disarray when he arrived, and one failed to keep a clean sheet until the 9th time of asking this season. With that as the context, he been given a free pass for the fact that he started the latter 4 of those games. He has been picked out for individual praise despite the group failure, understandably, given his performances, but one day the responsibility will lie with him.
Late on against Lille last night, the 21 year old played a weak backpass to his goalkeeper, forcing Kepa to sprint out and make a smart stop at the feet of an onrushing attacker. Tomori was a matter of inches away from costing us 2 points, and possibly qualification to the knockout stages in the final shakeout. He was let off the hook, and the praise for another outstanding game – this time featuring an assist, went on.
Perhaps he would respond in a different way to an error in a situation like that than Christensen did. One thing is certain – we will find out. Every defender makes mistakes and goes through tough spells – even Rio Ferdinand and, yes, Marcel Desailly. Tomori himself has battled adversity at Hull and Brighton and looks better for it now. But before he is crowned as our new saviour, let’s remember Andreas Christensen. The golden boy who shone so brightly now seems dim in the novel neon glow of “TOMORI” – reminding us that for every rapid rise, there is an equally rapid fall.