For Toni Rudiger, it has been a longer gap than for most players between his milestone 100th Chelsea game and the chance to play in his 101st, but the wait is almost over and with the visit of Man United almost upon us, the defender discuss with the official Chelsea website reaching a century of appearances and the challenges ahead.
As landmark games go, Leicester away on the first day of February was a pretty memorable one for the German, especially as he says games in which he scores are the ones he recalls most easily when he thinks back, although when pushed to select the match from the first 100 that he considers a favourite, he instead selects a clean sheet performance when Pedro and an own-goal did the damage to our opponents.
‘Last season, the home game against Tottenham,’ is Toni’s choice, ‘because it was a tight match and at the end we won 2-0 in a derby, and it was important to help us finish in the top four.
‘And the other one I choose is the last one, against Leicester, because I had never scored two goals in one game before, that makes that one special.
‘If someone hadn’t have told me before the game then I would not have known it was my 100th but it was a great feeling, also because I scored that brace to help the team although it was not really a moment to celebrate because we did not win.’
Since he arrived at Chelsea in the summer of 2017, Rudiger has regularly been a first-choice selection at the back apart from time out through injury, of which there was a long period from April to December last year. The way he has established himself at the club is something of which he can feel proud.
‘I came here as a ‘no name’ because many people did not know who I was, so there were doubters,’ he says, ‘but I have always kept to my line and I have enjoyed my time here and I am still enjoying my time.’
Rudiger had a few days in Dubai during the winter break before returning to Cobham to resume training with freshly cropped hair, which has nothing to do with the hot weather he has been in, and neither is he copying Jose Mourinho’s recent close shave.
‘It is just for myself for private reasons and I will announce that properly next week,’ he reveals.
‘The winter break in February is a bit weird I would say, but at the end of the day it is good maybe to not see every time the same faces. That is okay for the mental side and also for the physical it is good, but from my point of view, I have already had a long break [due to injury]. For me if there was no break I would also be happy.
‘Of course there was momentum after I scored against Leicester and you always want to play after that, but that does not change anything. After the two-week break, we have to go again.’
One of the suggested benefits of the Premier League’s first mid-season pause is that players who contest this summer’s Euros will be fresher than they would be otherwise. Rudiger is expected to be one of Germany’s main central defenders at the tournament.
‘I don’t think that one week away makes much difference,’ he decides, ‘because in Germany you have a month, really like a break, and we do another pre-season. This for me is a real break, not this one week and then you go again. That makes no big difference.
‘Of course these Euros are important to me because the last Euros I missed because of an ACL so I was gutted, but this summer’s Euros is too far ahead and I have important things coming before that.’
Beginning with the Chelsea versus Manchester United game. Again Toni has reasons to remember last season’s corresponding fixture at Stamford Bridge.
‘I scored and it was a good game, I could have scored also two goals in that game but it is good memories playing against Man United. These are the types of games you want to play, so I am ready!’
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