Rudi can't fail - Rudiger's rise from Lampard outcast to Tuchel's defensive rock at Chelsea

By Sports Desk May 14, 2021

Antonio Rudiger is no stranger to putting himself in difficult and painful situations for the cause, as evidenced by the defensive lynchpin of Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea revival sporting a protective face mask during matches over recent weeks.

Nevertheless, even as a player who appears to relish a challenge and refuse to back down from a confrontation, Chelsea playing behind closed doors might have done Rudiger a favour earlier in the year.

The Stamford Bridge faithful, for all the success lapped up during the Roman Abramovich era, are certainly not shy when it comes to voicing their displeasure over an unpopular change in the dugout, of which there have been plenty.

There was the vocal backing for Roberto Di Matteo weeks after his sacking in 2012. Interim boss Rafael Benitez was the villain in that situation but calling out any perceived culprits among a squad often noted for wielding player power has also marked times of tumult.

When Jose Mourinho's second spell at Chelsea ended with the then-reigning Premier League champions lurching close to the relegation zone in December 2015, he was backed by plenty of fans amid accusations of player betrayal. One banner in the ground famously branded Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to be "The 3 Rats".

Had stadiums been full around the time of Frank Lampard's January demise, it is possible Rudiger would have faced similar scrutiny.

"There have been so many nonsense rumours around about me since last week," he told The Athletic in February, following speculation that urged the Chelsea board to dispense with Lampard. "I've never talked with the board about the situation of the coach or on any other topics."

In a separate interview with Sky Sports, Rudiger explained he suffered "immense" racist abuse online after Lampard's sacking, both an indication of the levels of toxicity at play and a deplorable sign of our times.

It certainly did not feel plausible that, in the space of four months, Rudiger would be arguably the form defender in European football and leading Chelsea's charge under Tuchel for a pair of major honours, starting in Saturday's FA Cup final against Leicester.

Indeed, the most remarkable element of Rudiger being singled out as a man responsible for so many of the ills at Chelsea around the fall of Lampard was how little he had been involved in the first team.

He started two of their first 17 Premier League fixtures before being recalled in the wake of a 3-1 defeat by Manchester City to start back-to-back games against Fulham and Leicester – the latter of which was a 2-0 defeat that effectively sealed Lampard's fate.

Overall, Rudiger made nine appearances in all competitions under the former England midfielder this season, with eight of those starts. His 742 minutes on the pitch were dwarfed by first-choice duo Kurt Zouma (1,999) and Thiago Silva (1,552).

Tuchel's decision to switch Chelsea into a 3-4-2-1 shape obviously did Rudiger and his fellow centre-backs a favour in the most basic terms of one more slot in the team being available, but the Germany international has repaid his countryman's faith emphatically.

In 21 appearances since, he has been involved in a remarkable 14 clean sheets. No defender in the Premier League, or elsewhere in Europe's top five leagues for that matter, can boast more in this time.

The six goals conceded with him on the field is also the lowest across the continent's elite divisions for any defender to have started 15 or more games from January 27 onwards, which was the date of Tuchel's first game in charge – a 0-0 draw with Wolves.

Rudiger rested up for Wembley in midweek when Chelsea went down to a lacklustre 1-0 home loss to Arsenal. He was an unused substitute for the only other league defeat of Tuchel's tenure, an unhinged 5-2 collapse versus West Brom after Silva was sent off.

In the 19 Premier League games Rudiger has not started in 2020-21, Chelsea have conceded 26 goals at a rate of 1.4 per game. With the ex-Roma man in the first XI, this plummets to seven in 17 (0.4 per game).

Those seven goals have arrived over the course of 1,530 minutes on the field, meaning Rudiger has seen a goal conceded every 218.6 minutes. This is the best ratio in the Premier League for any defender to have played 1,000 minutes or more this term, with Manchester City pairing John Stones (194.9) and Ruben Dias (148.1) next on the list – suggesting the Champions League final in two weeks' time could be something of a cagey affair.

When set alongside his Chelsea central defensive colleagues Zouma, Silva and Andreas Christensen, Rudiger's imposing qualities are evident. He has made 29 tackles in the Premier League this season, an average of 1.7 per 90 minutes, with no other member of the quartet averaging above one.

His 7.1 duels per 90 is bettered by Zouma (7.6), although both have the same return when it comes to duels won (4.8).

Of course, Rudiger has starred within a collective recalibration. In the Premier League, Tuchel's Chelsea have faced an average of 7.8 shots per game at an expected goals (xG) value of 0.6, down from 10.1 and 1 under Lampard.

Adjustments beyond the defence have also made the Blues harder to play against. They control matches far more effectively, with an average of 663.6 passes per game up from 612.7 at a slightly better accuracy (87.7 per cent from 86.3).

Chelsea are also pressing opponents more effectively, allowing an average of 10.1 passes per defensive action (PPDA) under Tuchel, behind only FA Cup final foes Leicester and Leeds United across the period in question. This season with Lampard in charge, they averaged 11 PPDA, which was fourth among all Premier League teams.

The improvements have made life a little easier for defenders, but when Chelsea step out at Wembley there will be no mystery over the identity of their standout performer at centre-back – even if he is wearing a mask. Rudiger has lifted himself off the scrapheap to become Tuchel's talisman.

Related items

  • Sean McVay reveals Rams extension, waiting on deal for Les Snead Sean McVay reveals Rams extension, waiting on deal for Les Snead

    Sean McVay has announced he signed a contract extension with the Los Angeles Rams over the offseason, but talks are ongoing with general manager Les Snead.

    Head coach McVay guided the Rams to a Super Bowl win last season, and tying down his long-term future represents a major boost for the franchise.

    Yet McVay revealed he and Snead were waiting until both men were committed to the team before formally confirming the deals.

    "We are in a good place," McVay said at training camp. "I feel really good about the direction that's going in, and I think it'll be something where it'll be me and Les, and you guys will know when that is finalised for us.

    "We wanted to be able to announce that when both of us got it done.

    "It is something that we've been taking care of, but it is very important for Les and I to kind of have that represented as we're a partnership and a pair."

    McVay has been Rams coach since 2017, with this his first head coaching role after holding various assistant positions in Washington.

    Earning his first title against the Cincinnati Bengals at Super Bowl LVI earlier this year, McVay, 36, became the youngest coach to win the Super Bowl.

    McVay has a 55-26 career record, with his winning percentage of 67.9 the seventh-best of all time among coaches to oversee 80 or more games.

    Snead was the man who brought McVay to Los Angeles, having been the Rams GM since 2012, when the team were in St. Louis.

  • Carolina Hurricanes keep Martin Necas on two-year deal Carolina Hurricanes keep Martin Necas on two-year deal

    The Carolina Hurricanes and Martin Necas have agreed to a two-year, $6million contract to keep the young winger with the franchise through the 2023-24 season.

    Necas had been a restricted free agent.

    Selected 12th overall by the Hurricanes in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Necas has totalled 119 points (45 goals, 74 assists) in 203 career games.

    At 23 years old, Necas is considered a key piece for Carolina's future. He tallied 14 goals and 26 assists last season but managed just five assists in 14 Stanley Cup playoff games.

    After the New York Rangers eliminated the Hurricanes in Game 7 of the second round, Necas said he wanted to be a more consistent scoring threat in the future.

    "I've got to help the team more, got to produce way more,” Necas said in June. "That's what everyone kind of expects from me. I didn't do it this year, so like I said, it was disappointing for me."

    Carolina won the Metropolitan Division last season with a 54-20-8 record.

  • Van Bronckhorst ecstatic as Rangers comeback keeps Champions League qualification dream alive Van Bronckhorst ecstatic as Rangers comeback keeps Champions League qualification dream alive

    Giovanni van Bronckhorst was overjoyed by the memorable comeback instigated by Rangers on Tuesday that set up a Champions League qualification play-off against PSV.

    Rangers lost 2-0 to Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium last week, a result that Van Bronckhorst even felt flattered his team.

    But just as Ibrox proved a dependable fortress en route to the Europa League final last season, home advantage helped Rangers over the line again.

    James Tavernier's penalty on the stroke of half-time was added to by Antonio Colak's close-range header near the hour mark.

    Bayern Munich loanee Malik Tillman then nodded in the crucial goal 12 minutes from time, and Van Bronckhorst – who will go up against his former Netherlands team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy in the next round – was left ecstatic with the 3-2 aggregate success.

    "It's another amazing night in Europe," he said. "There was a lot of pressure on us to deliver and to go through to the next round. We played really well at moments and kept the pressure on them.

    "We know the atmosphere can be very hostile and we created that atmosphere along with the fans. I'm very proud of the performance of my team."

    Rangers only lost once at home in the Europa League last term, a 2-0 defeat to Lyon in September, and Van Bronckhorst once again highlighted the fans' role in their turnaround on Tuesday.

    "We know the fans are always there but if we have a performance like we did today then the crowd will be even more hostile," he continued.

    "They keep pushing us to go forward so at moments in the game you have to make the right decision not to go too quick with your attacks. We knew we were capable of doing this but we keep doing it time after time. And we did it again.

    "They had some chances – the biggest one was saved in the second half. Some chances we just dropped our bodies in front of them to block the shots.

    "It's a big performance. We needed that. I’m very proud of the team. We're still in contention to go to the group stages of the Champions League. We'll to do everything possible to be in the Champions League this season."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.