We turn our attentions to departed defender Antonio Rudiger next in our player season review series…
Rudiger played a major role for the Blues in his final campaign at the club, featuring in every minute of our UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup triumphs as we lifted both trophies. He was named Man of the Match in the win over Palmeiras in the final in Abu Dhabi, underlining the importance of his leadership and defensive nous at the back.
In total, the German made 54 appearances in all competitions, all from the start, more than any other Chelsea player. His move to Real Madrid following the expiry of his Stamford Bridge contract was announced earlier this month and brings to an end five successful seasons in south-west London.
Trusted at the back
Rudiger’s role in the Chelsea backline was evident throughout the term, the centre-half maturing under the trusted management of his compatriot Thomas Tuchel, who he has described as something of a father figure.
There is no denying that the Blues boss has eked out the best of Rudiger in a Chelsea shirt, with his 26 clean sheets from 54 appearances in 2021/22 an impressive return. That run started with a successful shutout on the opening day of the Premier League season and continued throughout a miserly autumn in which we kept four clean sheets in our opening five league matches.
Rudiger’s blocking, awareness and impressive recovery speed was a regular feature during this time, the sight of him shepherding a through-ball out of play with that distinctive high-kneed running style also commonplace right until the end.
The first of the defender’s five goals of the campaign – a personal best – came away at Tottenham in September as his clean strike in stoppage time wrapped up a 3-0 win, our biggest margin of victory away at Spurs in two decades, and sent the Blues top of the table.
That wasn’t his only goal of the season in N17, though, as he headed in from a corner to seal our place in the Carabao Cup final in January, after which he reflected on it being the best period of his career. Before then, he had notched in November in another 3-0 away win, this time at Leicester City, a happy opponent for Rudiger in a goalscoring sense.
Rudiger’s other strikes came in the spring, with one particularly memorable effort against Brentford demonstrating the more rounded player he had become since joining us.
His barnstorming runs upfield were already a familiar sight to Blues supporters by this point, using his long stride to eat up the yards, and the persistence of his powerful efforts from distance finally paid off with a sweet long-range finish against the Bees. It was the pick of his 12 career goals for the Blues and was voted as the Premier League’s Goal of the Month for April.
However, the most memorable of his 2021/22 efforts came at the Bernabeu as we launched the most improbable of Champions League comebacks against Real Madrid, his soon-to-be new club. Rudiger’s header levelled the tie at 3-3 before Timo Werner briefly had us ahead until Los Blancos snatched a painful extra-time win.
Recognition and farewells
Yet it was at the other end of the field that Rudiger stood out, impressing team-mates and opposition players alike to the extent that he was our sole representative in the PFA Team of the Year.
He made his 200th appearance away at Leeds United in May and marked it with another clean sheet, yet it had become clear that a summer departure was likely as the months rolled on.
Unsurprisingly, the man from Berlin never let his professionalism or performances dip and his disappointment was obvious when defeats to Real Madrid in the Champions League and to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup finals denied him the chance to say goodbye with one more piece of silverware.
That farewell eventually came in our final game of the season at home to Watford, a few weeks after Tuchel had confirmed his exit, and the manager allowed him a special reception when taking him off with 25 minutes of the contest remaining. Stamford Bridge rose in appreciation and Rudiger returned the salute, a mutual appreciation after five fantastic, trophy-filled years.
Antonio Rudiger 2021/22 Chelsea stats
Antonio Rudiger Premier League appearances 2021/22
Antonio Rudiger played 34 games in the Premier League for Chelsea this season, all from the start.
Antonio Rudiger Champions League appearances 2021/22
Antonio Rudiger made nine appearances in the Champions League this season, the joint-most in the squad.
Antonio Rudiger FA Cup appearances 2021/22
Antonio Rudiger played five games in the FA Cup this season.
Antonio Rudiger Carabao Cup appearances 2021/22
Antonio Rudiger made three appearances in the Carabao Cup this season.
Antonio Rudiger Super Cup and Club World Cup appearances 2021/22
Antonio Rudiger played one game in the UEFA Super Cup and two matches in the FIFA Club World Cup this season.
Antonio Rudiger goals 2021/22
Antonio Rudiger scored five goals for Chelsea in 2021/22 - three in the Premier League, one in the Carabao Cup and one in the Champions League.