If any player can best summarize Chelsea’s roller coaster of a season, it’s Rudiger. Signed in the summer of Conte’s disastrous second year in charge, Rudiger was expected to add some pace and energy to an ageing backline with his youthful exuberance. But time flies so fast that only in his third season at Chelsea, he is seen as an experienced head at the back in a new and young Chelsea side. For me, it’s a role that has come too soon for Rudiger.
With Rudiger injured, Chelsea started this season with the defensive partnership of Zouma and Tomori, which blew hot and cold as expected from two young center backs. After a good start, when the results started going downwards due to defensive errors and lapses of concentration, fans started praying for Rudiger to get fit and help sort out the defence. He finally returned in December, but Chelsea’s defensive form did not. Rudiger’s first full league game was a 0-1 defeat to Bournmouth that was followed by a solid yet unspectacular performance in a 2-0 away win over Spurs, with Son getting sent off for a poor challenge on Rudiger. Then came one of Rudiger’s worst performances of the season in a 0-2 home defeat to Southampton where Rudiger was directly at fault for the second goal by getting skinned by Armstrong who provided the killing pass.
Apart from his defensive lapses, Rudiger’s inability to accurately pass the ball has been frustrating. Game after game Rudiger tries to play long balls which usually find an opposition player. A good example of Rudiger’s defensive lapses and inability to pass would be the FA Cup tie against Liverpool, game considered by many as one of his better performances this season. Early in the game, Rudiger tried a long ball which was intercepted by Minamino high up the pitch only to be saved by an on-form Kepa on the day. This was followed by many situations where Mane easily rolled Rudiger like he wasn’t even there and absolutely dominated him. On any other day, Mane would have taken one of those chances and we would have been out of the FA Cup.
The errors in Rudiger’s game are like those of a young center back who is learning and growing with each and every game. This is further backed by his stats, which are comparable or even worse than the younger center backs on the team. His pass success percentage is 85.6%, which is the worst out of our four center backs, with Christensen having the best pass success percentage at 90.1%. Much is said about Rudiger’s aerial ability and how he adds a strong aerial presence to the team in open play and on set-pieces, but stats say otherwise. Rudiger’s aerial duels won per game is 2.8 and that is puts him in third, which is only better than Tomori. Even Christensen who is not seen as a physical player has won 3.3 aerial duels per game in the league this season. Rudiger ranks third in tackles per game, fourth in interceptions per game, second in giving away fouls and has made the same number of blocks per game as Tomori and Zouma. Doesn’t look good for a player who was supposed to be a defensive leader.
Rudiger’s best moment of the season was definitely his match saving brace against Leicester at the King Power Stadium, when he became the first Chelsea center back to score a premier league brace since John Terry in 2013. The first goal was a good header from close range at the far post out jumping his marker Hamza Choudhury, and the second an excellently placed header back across goal that helped us take a point off Leicester in a game where our attack lacked creativity. But it has been unfortunate that such occasions have been far too few for Rudiger, as he managed just 5 goals so far in three premier league seasons. We saw a good performance from Rudiger against Everton, but to me it feels like another false dawn.
Looking ahead, for me it’s clear that Rudiger needs to be moved on. And I haven’t even talked about that disaster class against Bayern. He is unfortunately not the experienced head who can lead from the front (or back?) that Lampard so desperately wanted him to be. And if he continues to put up performances like a young prospect, I would rather have Tomori make those errors and grow in to a better defender rather than Rudiger, who just hasn’t improved since his time at Roma. He gets a 5/10 from me this season.
Edited by: Dan