Antonio Rudiger brought the good, bad & ugly against Sheffield United – but Thomas Tuchel is right to keep faith

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Few Chelsea players are as polarising as centre-back Antonio Rüdiger.

On his day, the German can be among the best defenders in the Premier League, but on a different day, he also has the potential to be one of the worst.

Unfortunately for Chelsea, both of those days happened to fall on Sunday in the 2-1 win over Sheffield United.

David McGoldrick, Antonio Rudiger
Rudiger had a mixed showing against Sheffield United | Clive Mason/Getty Images

Against the Blades, Rüdiger was about as inconsistent as possible, spending time as both hero and villain as Chelsea managed to avoid a shock result against the Premier League’s bottom side.

After a quiet first half, things picked up for Rüdiger early in the second when a complete loss of concentration and poor decision-making saw him poke the ball past Edouard Mendy to hand Tuchel his first goal conceded since moving to Stamford Bridge.

It was the kind of lapse fans have come to expect from the 27-year-old, whose error-prone tendencies were out in force under Frank Lampard last season too. You never know when it’s coming, but it’s definitely coming.

However, to Rüdiger’s credit, he responded to that error in outstanding fashion.

Clearly aware that he had messed up and nearly cost Chelsea the victory, the German defended like a man possessed at times, pulling off block after block and throwing himself in front of every shot which came his way.

There were some headed clearances that most defenders could only dream of pulling off, while the willingness to put his body on the line to protect the goal should be seen as a message to anyone who doubted his commitment to Chelsea.

Ultimately, with Rüdiger, it’s a case of balancing the outstanding with the downright ugly.

Thomas Tuchel, Antonio Ruediger
Tuchel has work to do to eradicate that side of Rudiger’s game | Pool/Getty Images

At 27, you can argue that it’s too late to coach these errors out of his game, but that’s what Tuchel must try to do. After all, if those defensive lapses can disappear, Rüdiger could well establish himself as one of the game’s top centre-backs, with many of those not reaching their peak until their late 20s or early 30s. He has all the qualities needed, but without the consistency right now.

It’s a risk for Tuchel, who knows that any defensive errors could be fatal to his chances of qualifying for the top four this season, but the rewards from sticking with Rüdiger could well make it all worth it.

Playing in a back three alongside Thiago Silva will do the German the world of good. It’s no coincidence that his huge mistake came in a game in which the experienced Brazilian wasn’t playing. Silva brings a calming influence that Chelsea’s defence sorely needs.

Alongside Silva, Zouma began to show he was capable of eradicating his own errors, and Tuchel will hope he can get the same response from Rüdiger, who he clearly believes in after trying to bring the defender to PSG.

Thiago Silva
Playing alongside Silva will help | Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

Tuchel will never claim to be a defensive specialist, but he does have a track record of helping centre-backs improve. At PSG, it was Marquinhos who took his game to a new level under Tuchel.

“All I can say is that Tuchel made me progress a lot,” Marquinhos told So Foot (via Goal). “With him, I reached a level that I never thought I would reach. He made me a better footballer.”

Will Tuchel be able to have the same impact with Rüdiger? Only time will tell. The risk is enormous, but so is the potential reward.

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