The Renaissance of Antonio Rudiger

Antonio Rudiger – A name that has been making waves among the Chelsea fanbase, for such has been the form of the German centre back lately that the defender has quickly established himself as one of the vital cogs in the current team that’s seen a massive turnaround in the last four months or so.

The incoming of Thomas Tuchel has been a revelation not just for the team but for players like Rudiger as well, who, not so long ago, was looking at the door out from the club after being unfavoured at the hands of the previous manager.

The German is now a European champion and it’s fair to say he is one of the first names on the team sheet and the sides record without him speaks for itself. Four months ago a new contract for Rudiger would have seemed a long way off, he was being shunted out of the door without too much of a complaint from most, now, he’s helped his side dominate their way to the biggest prize in club football.

Rudiger has shown his mentality in spells during his time at Chelsea. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP)
Rudiger has shown his mentality in spells during his time at Chelsea. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP)

Antonio Rudiger: The ups and downs

The unrest

When Frank Lampard was sacked in the final week of January, the atmosphere surrounding the club was quite dull not just because of the events on the field but off of it as well. There were rumours of unrest in the dressing room with many a report pointing fingers at the senior figures in the squad who had experienced a dry run of games till then. And Rudiger was claimed to be in the thick of things for all the non-footballing reasons. With many already convinced that his time was coming to an end at Stamford Bridge, the rumour of the German being part of the dressing room issues turned out to be the final nail in the coffin.

The change in atmosphere

Enter Thomas Tuchel and things took a drastic turn. The German quickly made his intentions clear when players like Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Rudiger and even Cesar Azpilicueta instantly found themselves back into the mix of the starting XI. While each of them made their presence known right from the word go, Rudiger has been the standout performer head and shoulders above.

Up until the FA Cup he had made 21 appearances since the arrival of Tuchel and salvaged 14 clean sheets, which is the most by a defender in not just the Premier League but the whole of Europe at that time. To say that the German has been an absolute stalwart in this Chelsea side would surely be an understatement.

Rudiger and the numbers behind the dominance: Nailing the stats game

*Stats used here are from up until the FA Cup final*

To go a bit deep in terms of understanding Rudiger’s impact, in the 19 Premier League games Rüdiger has not started in 2020-21, Chelsea have conceded 26 goals at a rate of 1.4 per game while the difference with him in the XI is that only seven goals have been conceded in 17 games at the rate of 0.4 per game.

And those seven goals have arrived over 1,530 minutes on the field, as in 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. While all the media hype has been surrounding Stones and Dias and rightly so for they are the Premier League champions this season, one really has to wonder if Rudiger’s works have gone under the radars.

Rudiger betters the number game when put alongside his compatriots. With 29 tackles to his name in the Premier League season, averaging 1.7 per 90 minutes, he again tops the chart while none of Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen and Thiago Silva average more than one.

The Tuchel effect

But anyone who has followed the team or the player closely would know that the story hasn’t always been like this. Rudiger as mentioned earlier, almost saw himself out of the club last summer. The defender was considered to be one of the weak links in Lampard’s system and was so down the pecking order that he failed to make the matchday squads on multiple occasions. Now one might argue it was down to the system where much of the players were exposed and hence simply had to be left out but it won’t be a mistake to say that Rudiger at times failed to execute the basics as well in his limited opportunities. There were more than a few brain fade moments and his lack of minutes looked justified at that moment.

Now, this is where Tuchel has come in bringing about a change in approach. He’s not just tinkered with the system and brought back the senior figures for the sake of it but has made sure to get the most of each of the players in the current squad. His immediate shift to a back three gave a clear indication that he wasn’t the one to compromise his defence. Now the compact system that Tuchel opted for yielded results as well for Chelsea have faced an average of 7.8 shots per game at an expected goals (xG) value of 0.6 per match in the Premier League, down from 10.1 and one under Lampard.

With gegenpressing in full flow, Chelsea have also been supreme in pinning down opponents immediately when they lose the ball. They have allowed an average of 10.1 passes per defensive action (PPDA) under Tuchel, behind only Leicester City and Leeds United across the period in question. The number is slightly below the one that was evident under Lampard as they averaged 11 PPDA back then.

Now looking at the overall impact that Tuchel has had ever since he stepped in, it comes as no surprise that some of the players have stepped up massively when it wasn’t long ago that their futures looked glim at the Bridge. This is in no way discrediting the work of the players of course but one simply cannot ignore but appreciate how Tuchel has made the most of his available resources. And this is where Rudiger has to thank his fellow countryman for not just creating an environment where he could show what he can bring to the table but also putting his trust in him right from the word go when he himself must have had little to no hope.

Here to stay?

The fearless tackling and heading in his own backyard, combined with constant passing of orders to teammates and those occasional moments of getting in the nerves of the opponents have brought a fresh lease of life, not just in the team but among the fans as well. He now looks a completely different player, far from the one who alienated opinions as his presence on the field now seems to bring a sense of relief and is quickly becoming a favourite character, thanks to his blunt yet brave comments after the Leicester game in the Premier League, fans now feel he’s truly one of us.

With talks of Rudiger signing a contract extension this summer gaining pace, fans would be hoping that he can continue his stellar form and be the defensive lynchpin of Tuchel’s Chelsea as the team looks to be well on course to close the gap at the top of the Premier League table starting next season.

Source: The Analyst, DailyMail, Opta Sports

Written by Shyam (@Shyamtalks)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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