Chelsea has been bolstered under Thomas Tuchel by the magnificent play of Antonio Rudiger, who for some yet unknown reason was in Frank Lampard’s doghouse. Managers have their favorites and clearly, Rudiger was not one of Lampard’s. That notwithstanding, Rudiger has emerged as possibly Chelsea’s most impressive and productive backline ace since Thomas Tuchel arrived. Why that is, is an interesting question.
The answer may be that Tuchel, as a German national, appreciated and still appreciates Rudiger’s contributions to the German National Team. Ergo, he was given an opportunity and Rudiger has clearly copiously repaid Tuchel’s confidence. He has been an absolute Rock of Gibraltar since being reinserted into the starting 11 by Tuchel. He has helped Chelsea not only amass an enviable record overall but equally importantly, win the big games that really matter.
A recent article spoke well about the need for mental toughness in the Chelsea team. Mental toughness is essential for winning titles. Earlier in the season, their possibly most mentally and physically tough player was nowhere to be found on the pitch. That, of course, is Rudiger. He adds those dimensions to the squad that frankly, no one else seems able to provide. He’s tough. He’s strong. He’s determined and he’s good. And he’ll battle with anyone either an opponent or evidently (as was recently reported) even one of his own teammates. That feistiness is an asset, not a drawback. It’s a necessity on any title-aspiring side.
Why Lampard assigned Rudiger to the outside is a story that will be interesting to hear at some point. Was it because he fit less in a 4-3-3 than a 3-4-2-1? Or did Lampard feel that he was less talented than Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma, not to mention the similarly banished under Lampard, Andreas Christensen? No idea, but it will be enlightening to learn why later on. Again, to each manager his own selections. Whatever the reason in Rudiger’s case, it wasn’t shared by Tuchel. Without a doubt, Rudiger’s re-entrance into the starting 11 has paid great dividends.
Chelsea is now beating good teams, an attribute sorely lacking under Lampard. That team couldn’t and didn’t. Perhaps the re-insertion of Rudiger provided just the amount of mental and physical toughness that was lacking previously. Rudiger will stand up to anyone and everyone. He may not be as sizeable as some, but he has the grit to challenge any of them. You have to like that about Rudiger. Now, under Tuchel, he may be seeking (and could be well on his way to) being the de facto Chelsea enforcer. That capability has been lacking since the retirement of the inimitable John Terry. There has been no, “mess with my team and you mess with me” attitude in Blue since Terry.
Rudiger seems to display that capacity, and if he continues to do so, it will be of indisputable and immeasurable benefit to Chelsea. Yet, his talent on defense is equally important. Grit and talent are an amazing combination. All this leads one to think again about how one manager’s exiled player is another’s starting star. It may be the system. It may be playing style. Who knows? Whatever the reason, it happens. Players move in and out of a club or a starting 11 on the whim of a manager or a new manager. It’s a fact of life in football.
For Chelsea, it has impacted several players this season, not the least of whom is Rudiger. Yet, he persevered. Then, upon receiving a new opportunity from Tuchel, he took full advantage, seized the opportunity, and excelled. He now has a lock on the left side of Chelsea’s now-formidable back three. Without question, should Chelsea advance and earn a top-four finish in the Premier League or win the Champions League, his contributions will have been central to either. Then, if they also win the FA Cup, it’s another feather in his cap.
Whatever eventuates, Rudiger has and will likely continue to be a tough, tenacious, and positive contributor to Chelsea’s current success. Count on it.