Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen is ready to step up to the challenge of playing in the defence of their Premier League title - and buck the trend of the Blues' loan players. The Denmark international has spent the last two seasons on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach and returns to Stamford Bridge at an opportune time following the permanent departures of John Terry and Nathan Ake, as well as Kurt Zouma's loan move to Stoke City.
The 21-year-old is therefore braced to start the campaign as one of five central defenders available to Conte, who prefers to play with a back-three. Since arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2015 Christensen has played just three times for the Blues, playing a total of 192 minutes but failing to make an impression beyond that.
But in two campaigns in Germany Christensen has grown into one of the best emerging defenders in Europe. He won Monchengladbach's Player of the Year award in his maiden season with the Bundesliga side and finished second in the voting last term, such was his importance and popularity around the club.
Christensen's potential was underlined last week when he was named as one of the 20 most valuable Under-21 players in Europe by Soccerex, with his value - based on factors such as international experience and technical quality - standing at €23.2m [£20.6m, $27.13m] according to the report. Conte is set to rewarded his recent improvement with regular first team football during the upcoming season, and the Dane is ready for the step up.
"I have come back to Chelsea a better player than the one that left two years ago," Christensen, who started the pre-season defeat to Bayern Munich on Wednesday [26 July] having previously featured against Arsenal, insisted to The Evening Standard. "I played about 80 games in two seasons and I have a lot more experience. I have a bit more toughness, more mental than physical.
"The physical side of things is something I still have to build on, but mentally it has given me a lot. I'm more confident, I feel ready for bigger things. I was up against a lot of top strikers, big teams. I remember when I played against Bayern for the first time, I was nervous beforehand because it is easy to look like a clown playing against these guys.
"Borussia played one against one at the back and I was directly up against [Robert] Lewandowski first and then Muller later on, but we won the game 3-1. Everything went well and this is the kind of thing that gives me more self-belief at the top level.
"Borussia were in the Champions League as well so I got to have a bit of a taste of everything. I was up against Alvaro for one game and know what it's like to play at Manchester City too. So I have had a bit of a taste of these big things and I want more of it in the future."
Should Christensen indeed take his place in the Chelsea first team it would represent a rare turnaround for a player loaned by the west Londoners. Players cast out for spells away from the title winners seldom return and win a place in the senior side, with loan deals normally the precursor for a permanent departure further down the line.
Whether the defiant message from Christensen, who will compete for a place alongside club captain Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and new signing Antonio Rudiger, is enough to stop Conte from further improving his squad remains to be seen. The champions continue to be linked with a move for Southampton's £60m-rated Virgil van Dijk who appears destined to leave St Mary's this summer.
The Mirror understand that despite acquiring Alvaro Morata, Willy Caballero, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Rudiger already this summer, Conte wants to make another £150m worth of signings including the Netherlands international. Van Dijk is intent on moving to Liverpool, but with Jurgen Klopp's side having already backed off in their attempts to sign the 26-year-old once this summer Chelsea could yet complete the deal.