Andreas Christensen's rise has been Chelsea's biggest surprise - Conte

Antonio Conte called Andreas Christensen's rapid rise "the best surprise" at Chelsea this season, believing that the Dane's breakthrough has validated his policy of not giving "stupid presents" to young players.

Having returned from an encouraging two-year loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach last summer, Christensen began the season outside Conte's strongest XI but has quickly taken David Luiz's spot in the middle of Chelsea's back three with a series of assured displays.

Such is Christensen's importance to Conte's plans that he could well be one of several key players rested for Wednesday's Carabao Cup quarterfinal clash with Bournemouth, and Chelsea's head coach believes the 21-year-old even has the makings of a future club captain.

"His performance was amazing [when I picked him]," Conte said of Christensen. "Every time I decided to give him the opportunity to play, he played with an amazing performance. These performances convinced me that Christensen has to play with regularity.

"Christensen is maybe the best surprise from the start of this season, despite his young age. I think that, for us, he's been the best surprise: for me, the club, his teammates, the fans.

"It's not simple to see this composure, this calmness in a young player. Don't forget, he played big games with great calm and great focus and concentration. We must be happy because, I think, Chelsea found a player who can have the same career as some of the best defenders here.

"I hope that Christensen helps me to make sure that happens. He's a serious person, always committed in training sessions. He doesn't speak a lot. He prefers [actions] to words. I can predict for him a fantastic career."

Asked if he could go on to be a Chelsea captain in future, Conte replied: "Yes, for sure. When you start to play in a great club like Chelsea [at such a young age], for sure the future is yours."

Christensen's breakthrough has provided timely encouragement for the many other talented youngsters either on loan or on the fringes of Chelsea's first-team squad.

Academy prospects Ethan Ampadu, Dujon Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi are all set to be involved in Chelsea's match day squad against Bournemouth, but Conte remains adamant that substantial first-team minutes must be earned rather than given.

"[Against Bournemouth] I have the right expectations for the players who are not usually playing with regularity, but deserve to have this chance," Conte added. "If they don't deserve it, I don't like to give presents. Stupid presents. If you deserve it, you'll have your chance. If you don't deserve it, you won't.

"I try and make the best decision. Sometimes I can make the best decision. Sometimes I make a wrong decision. This is part of my job. But there is only one thing that every single player has to consider: my honesty. When I decide about a player, the last part of the body I see is his head [who he is]."

One player who has struggled for regular minutes under Conte is Michy Batshuayi. The striker spent most of last season in the shadow of Diego Costa and has been the understudy to Alvaro Morata in this campaign, though Chelsea have also favoured deploying Eden Hazard as false nine in the Spain international's absence.

"He has to show me that he's better than Morata, or than Hazard," Conte insisted. "It's very simple. But don't forget that Michy, this season, is playing more than last season. Last season he didn't play. He didn't play and I think this season, if you consider his injury for a month, he had his chance.

"Now I think it's right for him to start the game against Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup. But I repeat: in every game, I have to make the best decision for the team. Against Huddersfield we won 3-1 and I think I made the best decision to start with Hazard, Pedro and Willian. It was the same against Southampton. Every game I've played Hazard, Pedro and Willian together, they've won -- last season and this season."