Chelsea seemed to cement their place as title challengers in the thoughts of many football fans last week with an impressive away win at Anfield in the Carabao Cup and a 1-1 draw in the league also against Liverpool.
The Reds had a 100 per cent record so far this season heading into the two fixtures, but came up against a well-drilled Maurizio Sarri side that almost played them at their own game, and of course Eden Hazard was the difference for the West London side.
As good as the Belgian was though, one Chelsea man put in a performance in the league game that was perhaps more of a surprise for Blues fans. German centre-back Antonio Rudiger was rested for the cup tie between the two sides, but back at Stamford on Saturday he put in one of the defensive performances of the season to prove to Sarri just how important he will be in his back four.
Rudiger initially arrived from Italian side Roma in the summer of 2017 and made 27 Premier League appearances in what was to be Antonio Conte’s last season at the club. At times there was a question over whether he was flattering to deceive though and he often looked a little like Bambi-on-ice.
Under Conte, Chelsea were famed for playing in a back three but with Sarri coming in it’s very much a 4-3-3 formation with Rudiger partnering David Luiz in the starting XI.
With the high-tempo style that Sarri demands, the full-backs then bomb forward and the two centre-backs need to be athletic and fit enough to cover when they are dragged out wide. Rudiger did this brilliantly against Sadio Mane in the draw against Liverpool, getting tight when he needed to and bullying the Senegalese winger out of the game.
Rudiger was imperious in his defensive display, making three clearances and winning two aerial duels against one of the most dangerous attacking trios in the Premier League. The 25-year-old also made a crucial goal-line clearance when Mohamed Salah rounded Kepa Arrizabalaga and managed to divert his shot on target from out wide, but the German was there to clear the ball thanks to his impressive pace.
Another stand out stat from his performance was his passing accuracy of 96 per cent from 71 total passes. This was just two behind the conductor of Sarri’s team Jorginho and proved just how well the centre-back has adapted to the new system. If Chelsea are to challenge for the title, his continued form will be crucial.