After a calamitous season at the back, Chelsea are making serious moves in defence. Ben Chilwell was the completion of a long-awaited target for Frank Lampard, while Thiago Silva looks the perfect short-term choice to fix the Blues’ sub-standard defensive organisation.
But the new arrivals put pressure on those already at Stamford Bridge. After all, some players will have to be sacrificed. Everyone must prove their worth if they want to remain in Lampard’s plans, and perhaps no defender is more at risk than Antonio Rüdiger.
Rudiger's first season was arguably his best. Under the management of Antonio Conte, he recorded his highest appearance tally at the club. He helped the Blues win their eighth FA Cup, even being named man of the match for his performance in the final against Manchester United.
Rüdiger’s year with Maurizio Sarri was interesting, as he formed a bittersweet partnership with David Luiz. While the experienced duo brought strength and stability to the defence, their mistake-prone nature was costly on a number of occasions, albeit ending with victory in the Europa League.
However, last season was Rüdiger’s least impressive campaign in blue. Injury did reduce his gametime, but consistency decreased while errors increased in prevalence and significance. He was the weak link of Chelsea’s defensive woes, repeatedly being at fault for avoidable goals in an underwhelming year.
The signs are all pointing in one direction: it is time for Rüdiger to leave Chelsea.
While he does not warrant all the blame for the Blues’ defensive flaws, he was the one exposed time after time. His form after the restart tells the story: from failing to contain Andriy Yarmolenko as he scored the winner for West Ham, or scuffing his clearance into David McGoldrick’s path for Sheffield United, mistakes have been far too common.
Rüdiger’s inconsistency showed throughout the season, opening the door for other centre-backs to come in. Fikayo Tomori and Andreas Christensen both had newfound opportunities to break into the team, while Kurt Zouma has established himself as Lampard’s preferred centre-back.
In contrast to his defensive partners, Rüdiger kept a clean sheet in 26.9% of his appearances last season. Only Tomori (27.3%) had a higher tally, but it was the German who was most often the weakest link throughout the campaign.
With an average age of 23.7 between Zouma, Tomori and Christensen, they all have huge potential and time to grow and flourish under Lampard. They are yet to enter the prime point of their careers, and with a number of years ahead of them all, there is no rush to offload them this summer.
Rüdiger is the oldest of the current quartet at 27, meaning that experience was one of his key attributes. But with the vastly experienced Silva, who is turning 36 in September and one of the best defenders of his generation, there is no need for Chelsea to use Rüdiger’s age and experience to their advantage.
Chelsea do not need five centre-backs among their ranks - it is simply excessive and a waste of personnel. Silva will take instant priority for his impressive credentials, but it does mean that someone will be forced out. As the defender with the least future potential - in age and quality - Rüdiger is the unlucky man.
Even though Silva will move on in one or two years, new signing Malang Sarr will be able to return from his loan spell and integrate into the first team.
Chelsea are building a long-term project, and with young players coming through and showing their worth, it is hard to see Rüdiger remaining a key part of Lampard’s plan. For all his bright moments and outstanding performances for the Blues, they have outgrown him, and it is time for Rüdiger to leave Stamford Bridge for good.