The Blues have finally landed their second major signing in the form of AS Roma center back Antonio Rudiger, after Manchester City’s goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero, under a 5-year contract worth £29m.
Conte’s historical ties with Italian defence must have surely inspired him to benefit the Blues through the art of Italian defending in the coming season.
Given that the Chelsea boss couldn’t get any of his Juventus defensive targets yet including Alex Sandro, the move showcases his priority in still having an eye to firm up the central defensive options both on field and on bench.
Although the German defender is not a powerful signing, he is clearly a good investment. Rudiger will wear the number two jersey which was left untouched after Ivanovic’s departure.
Should the former defender’s legacy will be carried on by the new defender, who is best fit to play at the right side of 3-men defence?
Concerning his defensive contributions, his stats are not that impressive.
In his 26 Serie A appearances last season, he made only 1.06 interceptions, blocked only 0.32 shots (9% of team’s blocked shots), and won only 1.8 tackles, 0.65 take-ons, and 46% of average duels – each per 90 minutes.
Yet, stats don’t always depict the full picture especially when it’s to evaluate how the men at the back are working in coordination and cohesion to ensure defensive solidity that brings out only the best defensive aspects of each one of them.
The German center back is good in marking and slowing down his men. As a right center-back in the 3-men defense at AS Roma last season, his man marking talent allowed the middle center-back, Fazio, to sweep and channel the ball back to the build-up in enough time.
Fits Conte’s backline set-up
This same back-line game is very well applied to Chelsea’s 3-men backline with Luiz not good enough in positional discipline and can freely roam and sweep the ball so as to efficiently lead the build-up, with the wide men – like Rudiger – taking their off-the-ball responsibility i.e. to hold up attackers in their area.
The physical strength of the 24-year-old would also play a crucial role in such a set-up.
The set-up with such a solid man-marking talent at the back would also give enough freedom to the wing backs to provide width to the team, especially during instant counter-attacking situations.
Alonso and Moses, Chelsea’s current wingbacks, have always benefited whenever they had to worry less about the defense and could have focused more on the attack.
Being strong and composed at the defense, the German has also exhibited praiseworthy performances with his national team, who have just won the Confederation Cup.
Another very important element which Rudiger will bring to Blues’ defense is his capability to challenge aerial crosses – he is 6ft 3in.
This is strongly demanded by Chelsea’s defence which faced severe aerial fragility last season allowing attackers to effortlessly head the ball at the back of the net.
Rudiger won around 57% of his aerial dues in his last Serie A season, a stats much better than his Chelsea’s counterpart, Azpilicueta, who has mostly been unable to block aerial crosses – he is 5ft 10in.
The new center back also possesses quality passing skills and has improved in distribution. He made 3.7 accurate long passes per game last season. He made 0.21 key crosses per game constituting 40% of his overall key passes and his free kick accuracy has been 100 percent.
He has much better stats of headed shots, 0.21 per game, comprising 50% of his total shots per game. Comparing it with Chelsea’s defenders and midfielders, only Cahill has played more headed shots, 0.4, per game in the last Premier League season.
The German international possesses exceptional speed which would help him being instantly available for attackers. This way he can also facilitate the right wing-back, Victor Moses, by overlapping him whenever the later would have to cut inside – Moses is right footed but can play with his left foot too while cutting in.
These few strong points are good enough to justify Chelsea’s signing of the former AS Roma defender, however, these may not be strong enough to replace him with the more-experienced Chelsea’s current center-backs in the starting line-up, at least in the eyes of Conte.
His overall passing accuracy is not much commendable – he excels only in long balls though – and has a poor shooting and scoring record.
He doesn’t use his left foot in shooting attempts and is likely to commit fouls very often – faced 7 yellow cards and 1 red in his last Serie A season. Besides, he has undergone knee operations multiple times.
He tends to lose positional awareness at the wider positions such as full back and also tends to lose concentration.
However, the unique hands-on training seasons by Conte, which also involve ample repetitions until the player fully adjusts its mentality accordingly, would be effective enough to improve this traits of the 24-year-old – he did the same with Luiz last season.
The perfect backup
Considering his skillset, Rudiger doesn’t seem to be the leading option for Chelsea’s backline especially when compared to Alex Sandro, Chelsea’s another target from the same league.
But Rudiger is tall, young, and experienced at both national and international level. He is a big-game and big-league player who possesses the few traits Chelsea has been lacking – aerial ability and man marking.
Given this, he is a perfect back-up option and will add depth and flexibility to Chelsea’s squad who will be facing more intense Champion League fixtures coming season.
And with Conte’s technical, tactical, and mental training, we can expect another Marcos Alonso in the making – this time as a long-term stopper possessing the art of Italian defending in his repertoire.
Written by Farkhanda Jabeen
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