With Chelsea set to resume the Premier League season a week today, up next in our detailed 2019/20 individual player review series is Antonio Rudiger.
Rudiger started the season in the late stages of rehabilitation following knee surgery in the summer, while a groin injury aggravated in his comeback game in September forced him back into the treatment room for a further three months. Since then, he has regained fitness and form, featuring regularly for Frank Lampard’s side at the heart of defence.
In February, he passionately discussed the subject of racism in football and wider society having made an official complaint to the referee during a game at Tottenham earlier in the season.
Antonio Rudiger: 16 appearances, two goals
‘We did miss him because he brings an aggression and a presence in everything that he does, which is good for us because we have young players in those areas as well. He’s the more experienced out of our centre-backs so he brings his quality in lots of ways.’
Lampard’s words of praise for the German in the aftermath of our draw at Leicester City at the start of February highlighted the importance of his maturity and defensive strength in the Blues backline.
Rudiger scored twice that day, his first goals of the season, to help us earn a point against a side that have been firmly entrenched in the Premier League top four since the early weeks of the campaign.
The defender is hardly a veteran, only turning 27 on the day we knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup in March, but his years of experience in the Bundesliga, Serie A and now three seasons in England give him unique nous at the back. After featuring for just 45 minutes in our opening 24 matches of 2019/20, Rudiger has since missed just one league outing.
After barely an injury issue of note in his early career at Stamford Bridge, damage to the meniscus in his left knee sustained away at Manchester United in April last year was a cruel blow that forced Rudiger to miss the Europa League run-in and the start of the current campaign under new boss Lampard.
After five-and-a-half months on the sidelines, his long-awaited return came at Molineux in mid-September. However, after starting the game alongside Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori in a three-man defence, Rudiger did not return for the second half after a pre-existing groin problem flared up late in the first period. It would be another three months before he played again.
‘This is not the first time I’ve been injured for a long time,’ he said after playing his first 90 minutes of competitive football for eight months in December’s Champions League win against Lille, which secured our safe passage to the round of 16.
‘You just have to be patient, listen to the doctor and wait for your time.’ Rudiger’s patience was rewarded and he has started 12 of our 13 Premier League games since.
Four or three for our number two?
Of those dozen games, Rudiger has featured eight times in a four-man defence and on four occasions as part of a back three as Lampard has tweaked his rearguard shape depending on availability and opposition.
The Blues appear to have had more joy with Rudiger in a back three, with a 75 per cent win ratio in those four games (twice against Tottenham and away at Arsenal, albeit the system was changed in the first half at the Emirates) as opposed to a 25 per cent win ratio with a back four (Burnley and Everton at home).
Competition among the centre-backs has also played a part in this rotation, with Kurt Zouma, Cesar Azpilicueta, Christensen and Tomori also used at centre-back this term.
‘We have really good centre-backs and you should always be in for competition because that makes everyone better,’ said Rudiger in January. In the two matches prior to the season postponement, Zouma was his partner and the Blues recorded back-to-back clean sheets for the third time this season.
Lampard has urged a greater set-piece threat from his side throughout the campaign and those calls were finally answered at the King Power Stadium when Rudiger twice headed in from Mason Mount set-pieces on what was his 100th Chelsea appearance.
At 6ft 3in, the Berliner has a height advantage on most and the aerial prowess to fully capitalise on attacking deliveries. The first brace of his career certainly came at an opportune moment and no doubt he will be eyeing more chances to appear on the scoresheet when football resumes next weekend.
Antonio Rudiger Premier League stats 2019/20
Antonio Rudiger stats
Antonio Rudiger Premier League appearances 2019/20
Rudiger has played 13 times in the Premier League for Chelsea this season, all of which have come from the start.
Antonio Rudiger Champions League appearances 2019/20
Rudiger has featured in two of our Champions League games this season.
Antonio Rudiger FA Cup appearances 2019/20
Rudiger has played once in the FA Cup this season, in our most recent fifth-round victory over Liverpool.
Antonio Rudiger League Cup appearances 2019/20
Rudiger did not feature in our Carabao Cup campaign.
Antonio Rudiger goals 2019/20
Rudiger has scored two goals for Chelsea this season, both of them coming in February’s draw away at Leicester City.