A lot has been said about Chelsea’s defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. The Blues had less than 30 per cent of the ball, couldn’t get a shot in the first half and couldn’t get a shot on target all game.
Antonio Conte’s tactics might have been criticised, and all the plaudits going to the City players, but Chelsea hero Pat Nevin admitted that he was particularly impressed with Antonio Rudiger in that game.
He wrote in his column for the official Chelsea website: “Hence I will cheer up and try to consider a Chelsea man of the match at the Etihad. Azpi was his usual diligent self and Marcos Alonso, like a number of others, put in a steady shift mostly in a defensive role, but it was Antonio Rudiger who stood out for me.
“I do accept there will be the odd raised eyebrow at that last sentence as his distribution wasn’t exactly of a Cesc Fabregas standard, but to be fair there wasn’t always a lot on in front of him. All the defenders and midfielders were caught on the ball and on the hop by City at one point or another. It is particularly difficult when there isn’t an easy out-ball.
“You may also have noted that Toni gave away a few fouls and was booked in the end for his troubles, but that was part of the reason why I was impressed. He was utterly committed to his work, which was to stop Sergio Aguero and co. as well as he could. His marking and his tackling were generally exceptional, rarely did anyone get past him. On a few occasions his pace was tested against Leroy Sane and Kyle Walker, but he wasn’t found wanting and those are two of the very quickest in the business.
“I tend to judge a defender not by his diffident manner but by how hard I think it would have been to get past him myself (when I was a little younger of course!). The German is a real old-school defender’s defender in the very best sense of the phrase. He clearly loves tackling and I bet that being given a man-to-man marking job would sound like an early birthday present to him. He is rapid obviously when he sprints but he has lightning reactions when good players try to turn him too. He is also pretty damn hard, which you really ought to be if you play back there.
“For all that Andreas Christensen has had a very good season and generally glides along like a Daimler in cruise control; there is much to be said for the more-rugged Dune buggy approach, even if it is as a foil for the Dane. When you consider the big games coming up and in particular the trip to the Nou Camp with those ultra-skilful fast-thinking forwards, then I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was Antonio Rudiger whose name was pencilled in first on that team sheet.
“Some may have headed for the team bus with their shoulders a little slumped up in Manchester, but he can throw his back and be proud that he stopped almost everything that a very good team could throw at him for 90-odd minutes.”