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Impending Rudiger exit will harm Chelsea's title ambitions

Posted on April 25, 2022

With reports this week suggesting Antonio Rudiger will depart Chelsea when his contract draws to a close at the end of the season, it's a huge blow for the Blues as they seek to launch a sustained title push next term.

Unwanted and underused by Frank Lampard, Rudiger became a key man with Thomas Tuchel at the helm, so much so that he has started more competitive matches (47) than any other Chelsea player in 2021/22, and has registered 4380 minutes of game time in all competitions. Chelsea were keen to keep Rudiger at Stamford Bridge, yet after prolonged contract talks between both parties, an agreement couldn't be reached.

With Tuchel favouring a three-man backline, his departure will be a huge blow for a Blues side that is now expected to lose three defenders this summer, with Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta set to follow the German through the Stamford Bridge exit. Rudiger has played his part in helping Chelsea to 13 clean sheets, the fourth most of all centre-backs in the Premier League this season - Virgil van Dijk leads this metric, with 19 - with the experienced Thiago Silva closest to matching that achievement for Chelsea, with nine.

His importance is magnified in that 18.5% of the total 27 goals Chelsea have conceded in the Premier League this season have come in three games Rudiger has missed ahead of Sunday's welcome of West Ham. Whether playing in a four or a three-man defence, Chelsea fans can rest assured there is a far greater chance of shutting an opponent out when the 29-year-old features. So to be losing a defender of Rudiger's calibre on a free contract could well prove disastrous for the west London side, at least in the short-term.

None of the centre-backs currently at Tuchel's disposal - Silva aside - offers the same agressive approach to defending as Rudiger. He ranks fourth for tackles and interceptions combined (62) of all Chelsea players with a willingness to break rank to either snuff out the danger or adopt a more physical approach a key reason for his and Chelsea's defensive success this term.

In addition, of the 147 players to have contested 50 or more aerial duels, an aerial success rate of 75% is the fifth best in the division. With the ball on the deck or in the air, attackers so often find it diffcult to get the better of Rudiger, so much so that across his 28 league outings, he has been dribbled past just 10 times at a rate of 0.4 times per 90. But then Rudiger's impending exit is part of a wider concern for the Blues.

Three current defenders are expected to depart the west London side this summer, and with Silva now 37, Chelsea's defence may be solid now, but at the current rate, it leaves just the Brazilian, Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr as Tuchel's three centre-back options ahead of next season. There is no doubt that the club will invest at the back in the off-season, yet to be stuck in such a position after allowing both Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi to leave permanently for AC Milan and Crystal Palace, respectively, speaks of a larger issuer at the club.

Whether they are placing too much onus on some and not enough on others, it remains to be seen, yet Tomori and Guehi have left Stamford Bridge and gone on to impress at their new surroundings. The former would have filled the right centre-back role well, while the latter has shown he could have seamlessly stepped into the three-man backline and excelled on the left, a position that needs addressing when Rudiger leaves in the summer.

There are others who have been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge in the summer who can ease the exit of Rudiger, with Jules Kounde, Matthis de Ligt and Adam Szalai all rumoured targets for the Blues, yet none offer that same defensive resolve that allow Chelsea to shut down opponents with ease. In addition, none of the above trio will come cheaply and coupled with the potentially costly departures of Tomori and Guehi, Chelsea are in a worse of position than were they to have kept the latter pair, at the very least financially.

A failure to keep Rudiger at Stamford Bridge, however, is one that won't sit well with fans. He has become such a key man for Tuchel's side that his exit will take more than one wndow to rectify. Even if Chelsea do land Kounde or De Ligt, or another possible target to replace Rudiger, the Germany international's experience in the league and in a system means his departure, on a free no less, is a huge blow in Chelsea's quest to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool.