Having failed to secure primary defensive targets Virgil van Dijk and Leonardo Bonucci, Chelsea have instead turned to Antonio Rudiger – an alternative who could offer a lot to the Premier League champions.
Rudiger came close to joining the Blues last summer as Antonio Conte’s first signing, only for the move to collapse after the 24-year-old picked up a serious knee injury while on international duty with the Germany national team.
But a year on, Chelsea, who have been tracking Rudiger for some time now, have finally managed to land the German from AS Roma in a £34m deal – which is likely to please a currently frustrated Conte.
While Rudiger is not as well-polished or high-profile as Bonucci or Van Dijk, the Germany international still has a skill set that would very much make him a valuable asset down in west London.
At 6’3”, the tall, athletic and physically imposing defender should provide an aerial boost to a Chelsea defence that was shown up – on multiple occasions last season – for being aerially vulnerable.
Rudiger is not just renowned for his physicality, though. Blessed with tremendous pace, the former VFB Stuttgart man is equally as good on the ball, possessing the passing range expected of a ball-playing defender. But what has likely caught the attention of Conte is the versatility of the Confederations Cup winner.
Rudiger loves playing in a back 3. Very versatile. Can play in a number of positions, including right [wing]back. Good signing
— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) 9 July 2017
Capable of playing in all three centre-back positions of a back three, in addition to both full-back positions in a back four, Rudiger could be deployed by the Italian manager in various different roles to the benefit of the team.
For example, Cesar Azpilicueta, who thrived in the right-sided centre-back position of the 3-4-3 formation that helped guide Chelsea to their fifth Premier League crown, could move out wide to right wing-back if necessary, with Rudiger coming in to take over the spot that the Spaniard regularly occupied last term.
Alternatively, Rudiger could also be brought in to replace Gary Cahill on the left-side of Conte’s three-man defence. Despite performing well and captaining the Blues to the title in the absence of former skipper John Terry, Cahill’s spot in Chelsea’s central defence is probably the one most at risk.
Contrary to a lot of critics’ beliefs, Cahill is a capable defender and has been very reliable since joining Chelsea back in 2012. However, where the England international’s game suffers is when he is in possession of the ball.
Cahill’s ball-playing ability massively pales in comparison to that of not just team-mate David Luiz, who was excellent in the heart of Chelsea’s back three after re-joining the club from Paris Saint-Germain last August, but also Azpilicueta.
The 31-year-old tends to struggle against teams that press high and aggressively, often giving the ball away once pressured.
With Conte adamant on his team building up play from the back, it would not be a surprise if Rudiger, a much superior passer than Cahill, dethroned the former Bolton man from that left-sided centre-back position he made his own the previous campaign.
In terms of purely defending, it is debatable whether or not Rudiger would be an upgrade on Cahill or any other of Chelsea’s current crop of centre-halves for that matter.
Along with Cahill, Azpilicueta and Luiz, Conte also has Kurt Zouma (who looks likely to go out on loan in fairness) and the highly-rated Andreas Christensen at his disposal.
Nevertheless, having lost legend and former captain Terry to Aston Villa and sold Nathan Ake to Bournemouth, Chelsea can do no harm by bringing in another central defender of Rudiger’s potential.
At 24 years of age, the German is far from the finished article. And although he has improved leaps and bounds since leaving Stuttgart for Roma, Rudiger still has areas of his game that need working on and things to iron out. The centre-half can be rash at times and have lapses in concentration but, under Conte, there is no reason why these deficiencies cannot be fixed.
Yet, doubts on whether Rudiger can succeed at a club like Chelsea remains among supporters, but Blues fans should take confidence in the fact that elite coaches including Conte, Joachim Low and supposedly Pep Guardiola are admirers of the defender.
“He’s a different player now [compared to his time at Stuttgart],” Low told Roma TV in 2016, per ESPN.
“He was originally a central defender, but he can also play on the right and I can see him in a variety of positions.
“He can play in either role, depending on what the team and the coach needs, and he knows how to do it well,” the 2014 World Cup winning coach added.
On top of the above praise, the Germany manager has also likened Rudiger, who he has given 17 international caps, to compatriot Jerome Boateng. With all of that in mind, it is clear to see that Rudiger has the approval of Low as well as what appears to be Conte’s.
In spite of the previously mentioned, the now ex-Roma player has still come across as an underwhelming addition for some Chelsea supporters, especially considering the fact that the Premier League champions had been chasing Southampton’s £60m-rated Van Dijk and AC Milan’s Italian wall Bonucci.
Rudiger, though, is still a defender that can bring much to Stamford Bridge.