Since about the middle of last season, Antonio Rüdiger has started emerging not only as a nailed-on starter for then manager Antonio Conte, but also as an emotional, spiritual leader of the team.
He’s continued that trend under Maurizio Sarri, leading by example on the pitch and saying all the right, clear-eyed things off of it.
It was thus extra rewarding and extra fun to watch him open the scoring yesterday against Manchester United with Chelsea’s first headed goal of the season. Chelsea led the league in headed goals last season with 17; the recent lack of them speaks not only to the scoring woes of our center forwards and our vast numbers of wasted corners, but is also yet another example of the team’s drastically changed approach under Sarri.
Alas, Chelsea were not able to hang on to the lead against Mourinho’s bunch in the second half, though Rüdiger rightly feels that a lot of that had to do with Chelsea’s failures rather than United’s play.
“We can be happy with this point because we nearly lost and we are still undefeated. In the second half we dropped more, we let them have more possession and we did some silly mistakes so they got some counter-attacks. They are a strong team, physically very strong.
“We need to learn to kill matches, but scoring late so often shows our mentality. We don’t give up, and also at the moment we have luck.”
-Antonio Rüdiger; source: Chelsea FC
Fully half of Chelsea’s goals in the Premier League (10 of 20) have come in the final 20 minutes of matches, but while that is certainly a useful trend, it would be even more useful if we didn’t have to resort to such goals. Sure, some of them were padding (Morata v. Southampton, for example), but most others were crucial to the outcome as either game-winning or game-tying goals, like yesterday.
These sorts of physically and emotionally draining matches will also catch up with the squad sooner or later, with or without rotation. The next month or so offers a few easier-looking fixtures however, so perhaps Chelsea can develop a new trend of winning easily for a bit instead.