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Antonio Rüdiger: The Inconclusive Jury

The story of Chelsea’s season is well documented. There have been many low points and several high points. On a few occasions, the young...

The story of Chelsea’s season is well documented. There have been many low points and several high points. On a few occasions, the youngsters have been up to the task and at other times, they have flattered to deceive. 
One area of the field where Frank Lampard hasn’t gotten it right is in the centre of defence. Frank has chopped and changed. Some of the changes have been circumstantial and others have been tactical. At the start of the season, the coach was without his most experienced centre-back, Toni Rudiger. Zouma-Christensen, Tomori-Zouma, Christensen- Tomori, and Zouma-Tomori were the options available to him. At that time, it seemed like the return of Rudiger will help steady the ship defensively. 
Toni had been out since Chelsea’s draw at Old Trafford last season. Without him, Chelsea struggled for defensive balance. The team conceded goals and struggled for clean sheets. In the first match of the season, the team played well but suffered from defensive naivety. There was no leader at the centre of the defence and at that time, Frank hoped Rudi’s return will bring an improvement. The European Super Cup in Istanbul followed the same pattern. Opposition strikers found joy against Frank’s defensive pairing both on the air and on the ground. Despite the team’s defensive frailties, Fikayo Tomori showed promise. At that time, Kurt Zouma justified Lampard’s decision to keep him. However, Andreas Christensen was a bit inconsistent. 
So, it was obviously not about the ability of the centre backs. It was just about cohesion and finding a leader. John Terry performed admirably in that role for so many years. Gary Cahill did well too after Terry’s departure. So, one of the current crops of players had to step-up and it wasn’t a surprise that all eyes were on Toni Rudiger as he is the most experienced of the four. 
Toni was rushed back in September for the away game at Wolves. Although his performance wasn’t particularly eye-catching, the team kept a clean sheet for the forty-five minutes for which he was on the field of play. So, it was a bit of disappointment to see him go off given that the team was struggling for defensive consistency. Toni didn’t appear in the team until December and before his return, Frank had settled for Zouma and Tomori as his preferred partnership.  
However, since the German’s return to full fitness, it is obvious Lampard wants to make him the focal point of his defence. He has played almost every game while Zouma and Tomori have seen their appearances reduced. In recent times, the coach has paired Toni and Andreas more than others as he continues his search for defensive solidity. Sadly and somewhat surprisingly, the Dane has been the more solid of the two. 
Rudiger’s positioning has been suspect; he keeps losing battles both on the air and ground. Also, he has lost a yard of pace. Opposition strikers get past him with ease and his defensive partners have had to cover for his lapses. There have been calls for Rudiger to be dropped from the team and he certainly hasn’t covered himself in glory. 

Apart from the two goals he scored against Leicester, Rudiger has struggled to influence the team in an attacking sense and this was very evident in the defeat at Goodison in December. Rudi can’t play from the back. He can’t offer Chelsea what Pique offers Barcelona or Virgil offers Liverpool. Tomori plays better diagonal balls and forward passes than the German and this is very crucial to the way Frank Lampard wants his team to play. His return hasn’t stopped the team from leaking goals and it looks like he needs some time away from the team to rediscover his best form. Frank did it with Alonso, he could do the same with Toni Rudiger.
Written by - @Tuneshman
Edit by - @KristenPulisic

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