Rudiger’s maverick run showed why Chelsea fans should love him more
When Thomas Tuchel was appointed Chelsea manager in January 2021, replacing club legend Frank Lampard, there was much talk about him needing to revitalise Timo Werner and Kai Havertz – also known as the ‘misfiring Germans’.
Almost nine months on, Tuchel has enjoyed mixed success in this mission.
While Werner has been unable to add consistent finishing to his unarguable qualities outside the box and now finds himself replaced by Romelu Lukaku, Havertz has gradually grown into the English game and has enjoyed a productive start to the new season following his Champions League final winner in May.
But there’s a third German who has truly blossomed under Tuchel – Antonio Rudiger.
Back in January, Rudiger’s days at Chelsea looked numbered having long since frustrated supporters with his moments of recklessness.
This may have seemed harsh but, as one example, just consider his role in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s winner for Arsenal in the 2020 FA Cup final.
The Germany international was stood like a sole domino waiting to be knocked over as Hector Bellerin charged towards him and lost control completely with an ill-timed two-footed tackle.
No wonder Lampard, desperately trying to tighten his defence, sidelined Rudiger towards the end of his reign.
But the 28-year-old has seemingly moved onto the right side of the delicate line between impulsive lunacy and hot-headed, but measured, genius under Tuchel.
Against an impressively solid Zenit, Rudiger decided to unleash his maverick side. Collecting the ball from a Reece James throw, the defender strode forward past two defenders and blasted his shot just wide.
The Stamford Bridge crowd, who’d previously been doing a fine impression of a morgue, were stirred from their slumber and clamoured to show appreciation for Rudiger’s off-the-cuff improvisation.
Chelsea undoubtedly possess a squad of nice young men but nobody else among their ranks would have channelled their inner-Franz Beckenbauer to such devastating effect during a Champions League tie.
For fans reared on the no-nonsense defending of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, watching Rudiger romp upfield undoubtedly provokes similar heart palpitations that a teenager experiences when their parents arrive home early to discover a house party in full swing.
This may not be the case for much longer. Rudiger’s contract expires next summer and negotiations for an extension have been slow. Both PSG and Real Madrid are reportedly monitoring the situation.
So maybe Chelsea fans should embrace their mad, impulsive German while they still can.
And even if Rudiger departs Stamford Bridge next year, then his renaissance should be remembered as one of Tuchel’s biggest success stories as Chelsea manager.
By Michael Lee