With 36-year-old Thiago Silva earning a rest after a busy international break, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard had to find somebody else to come in and cover for the influential Brazilian in Saturday’s meeting with Newcastle.
There were plenty of calls from fans for Fikayo Tomori to come in, and Andreas Christensen had his share of supporters as well, but it was Rudiger who was handed his first Premier League minutes of the season.
The German had been frozen out from the team earlier in the season, but has since managed to work his way back into contention, and he proved in Saturday’s 2-0 win that he deserves to be back in the picture.
It’s something that a lot of Chelsea fans seemingly don’t want to hear. A quick glance towards Twitter will show you a lot of supporters still harbour some frustration towards Rudiger, with most using one misplaced pass to Ben Chilwell as ‘evidence’ of 90 minutes of sub-par play.
However, a look at the wider picture will prove that was not the case, with Rudiger’s passing actually proving to be one of Chelsea’s most dangerous weapons against Newcastle.
As Chelsea’s left-sided defender, Rudiger showed his composure in possession by drawing Newcastle’s attackers towards him and unleashing his trademark cross-field pass to gift Reece James the entire right side of the field in which to run.
Neither Allan Saint-Maximin nor Jamal Lewis could get anywhere close to James, and that was down to Rudiger, whose awareness of how to unleash one of Chelsea’s greatest weapons has seemingly flown under the radar.
Even on the defensive side of things, the error-susceptible Rudiger was alert throughout, and there was one moment specifically towards the end of the game which highlighted the German’s impressive awareness.
With the game already won, Andy Carroll beat the offside trap and was bearing down on goal, only to see his shot deflected wide by the retreating Rudiger, who chased back and did enough to impact the shot.
What made Rudiger’s performance even more impressive was that this was his first Premier League game of the season, his third at in all competitions at club level and just his seventh if you include international appearances for Germany.
For a player lacking both match fitness and confidence, Rudiger looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.
Now, this isn’t to say that Rudiger should be starting every game. Once Silva is fit and ready, the Brazilian should be back in the lineup and should be joined by usual partner Kurt Zouma, both of whom have impressed greatly this year.
However, fears that Rudiger is a walking liability and should never play again were dispelled against Newcastle. The 27-year-old proved that he is worthy of a spot in Chelsea’s squad, just as he did in his appearances in the Champions League earlier this year.
Whether he’ll stay at Stamford Bridge is a different question entirely. He’s clearly a capable centre-back who is deserving of first-team minutes, and unsurprisingly, he’s probably not too happy with the idea of sitting on the bench in the run-up to the Euros next summer. He started every game for Germany in 2020 apart from the recent 6-0 thrashing by Spain, so it’s clear he’s got a chance of playing next year if he keeps fit.
There’ll be plenty of interest in Rudiger, and even though he’s proved his worth to Chelsea, the Blues should still keep the door open to offers at the right price. Tomori and Christensen can do the job as reserves, and the money raised by selling Rudiger would help Chelsea plug holes in other areas of the squad.
If no acceptable offers come in, that shouldn’t be viewed as the end of the world. Rudiger is good enough to play for Chelsea, and seeing his name on the team sheet shouldn’t fill fans with dread anymore.
For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!