Toni Rudiger was at the heart of another Chelsea clean sheet in Europe last night as the Blues kicked off our defence of the Champions League title with a 1-0 victory at home to Zenit St Petersburg.
The German has been a regular fixture as the left centre-back in Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-3 since his compatriot’s appointment as head coach at the end of January, during which time we have conceded just twice in eight Champions League matches.
Smart tackling, incredible acceleration and playing with personality are attributes that Rudiger has honed, as well as a penchant for bursting forward from defence with a steely determination to affect the game in the opposite penalty area.
His latest forward foray against Zenit almost resulted in one of the great Stamford Bridge goals and lifted the atmosphere inside the ground at a time when the crowd were just starting to fall a little flat with the score still 0-0.
Not long afterwards, Romelu Lukaku struck again with a back-post header to settle a tight contest against the Russian champions and afterwards Rudiger reflected on a tough night’s work.
‘It was one of those type of games where if you don’t find an early goal, it becomes difficult but we kept going,’ said the 28-year-old.
‘The only threat that was coming from them was the counter-attack and we did very well with that. We played well, defended so well and got the one goal.’
Starting a new campaign as the defending champions brings with it added pressure and increased motivation for opponents desperate to topple the kings of Europe.
Zenit came to south-west London with a game plan to sit deep in numbers but hit on the break and the approach brought some rewards, though they were faced with that resilient Chelsea rearguard and a team determined to follow success with success after May's triumph in Porto.
‘Obviously last year we won the Champions League but now we start again from zero,’ he continued. ‘We know the expectations so we have to be mentally ready each game.
‘We are very clear with ourselves about that so mentally it should not distract us in any way.’
Inevitably, the final word went in praise of Lukaku, who proved the difference-maker for his new team once again with his fourth goal in as many games since his second coming in SW6.
While Rudiger claimed he ‘tried his best’ to score himself with that incredible mazy run, it was left to our number nine to produce the goods and there is clearly a belief among the dressing room that if good chances can be created then the goals and wins will inevitably follow.
‘He is a striker of great class so it’s good to have him around,’ he added. ‘He has a big personality but for us what is more important is the team and not only the one player.
‘Last season we also had a lot of chances but it is just that we didn’t finish so well but having him, and Timo Werner as well, with their qualities, is very good.
‘Obviously he is important for us scoring goals and of course to have a great player like him is very good but the reason why we won the Champions League last year is we did it as a team.’