Antonio Rudiger resurgence under Tuchel proves why Lampard had to go at Chelsea

The fall and rise of Antonio Rudiger at Chelsea is a strange tale.

Not the ‘rise’ part. That’s fairly straightforward, albeit increasingly spectacular amid the Londoners’ own mighty impressive form against the very best at home and abroad.

No, the difference between Rudiger now and before is that he is actually playing. Yep, it really could be that simple.

Thomas Tuchel arrived and immediately named the German international in his starting line-up. And that was that. Thereafter, Rudiger has appeared as much as any outfield Chelsea player.

His display against Real Madrid on Wednesday, from fearless tackling and heading in his own backyard, allied to constant barking of orders to teammates and even one barnstorming solo run into the opposition penalty box, was the epitome of a sportsman relishing every second on the pitch as he performs at the top of his game.

Hardly surprising, really, given that until Tuchel assumed the reins, Rudiger had been cold shouldered into touch – seemingly forever forgotten as long as Frank Lampard was the boss.

The then Chelsea coach actually decided that the £29million ex-Roma man was surplus to requirements the previous season – before Covid struck. We ran that very story around December 2019.

Lampard did nothing over the next 12 months to disprove the article. Indeed, all he did was show it to be absolutely bang on.

If a mistake to make such a strong call so soon – and on the evidence of the last three months it is impossible to come to any other conclusion – it was also a mistake not to sell Rudiger in the summer window.

That was not Lampard’s fault, he was not in charge of off-loading players – which manager is?. However, the club’s lethargic attempts to do so were, with hindsight, ominous and fatal.

All that did was leave Lampard with an experienced, well-liked character sitting around in the dressing room doing nothing – through no fault of his own.

Which in turn left everything Lampard did with his defence in the spotlight. The longer Rudiger, 28, did not play, the more bewildering it must have been to the rest of the squad.

Players are not stupid. They know if someone is better than those being picked. Then, the manager’s inability to acknowledge the reality, hold up the hand, admit the error, becomes a weakness.

That’s the strange part – that someone as bright, sharp and hungry as Lampard could not see that – and, therefore, never tried to find out whether Rudiger could still make a difference.

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  • Shame, as it might have saved him his job because in most other areas he got it pretty much right.

    Mason Mount is every bit a world-class playmaker. Timo Werner is every bit a more-miss-than-hit goalscorer. Kai Havertz, like most young foreign stars, needs time to settle before flourishing.

    However, Tuchel’s ridiculous defensive record of 19 clean sheets in 23 games before Saturday's trip to Manchester City would never have happened under Lampard.

    Not without a willingness to at least give Rudiger a reprieve!

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