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Antonio Rüdiger - Madrid’s new defensive general

Yash breaks down all of the German’s important attributes and how he’ll help Real Madrid next season

Real Madrid v Chelsea - UEFA Champions League Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

The 2021-2022 season is about to come to an end and Real Madrid have enjoyed a fairly successful run that has exceeded expectations. Under Carlo Ancelotti, Madrid comfortably won the league and have the Champions League final still to play. Amidst all this, they have one eye on strengthening the squad for the upcoming season with fresh blood.

Antonio Rüdiger looks likely to be the first signing of next season for Los Blancos. The 29 year-old German defender is at the peak of his powers, having enjoyed two very successful seasons at Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel and will bolster Real Madrid’s options at center-back.

In this article we will take a look at what he brings to the table and how he can improve Madrid.

Integral to Tuchel’s side

Rüdiger became an indispensable part of Thomas Tuchel’s side. He has been integral in their success since the German manager’s arrival, starting 51/59 games this season (most) and playing 4750 mins of the 5400 total possible minutes, a staggering 87.7%. The German turned a corner under Tuchel with the qualities he adds to that back-three in terms of his ball playing and defending — both key to how Tuchel’s system works.

Defensive ability

Rüdiger’s defensive action map

Rüdiger’s ground coverage has been phenomenal allowing Chelsea to use their fullbacks in a very advanced role acting as their chief chance creators. He often defends the space on the left flank, providing defensive assurance for the LWB to push up. With fullbacks pushed high, he has a lot of space to defend and has demonstrated good front foot defending ability. He has great awareness to step up to the receiver and deny them room to turn. His box-defending is great as well, as he wins most of his defensive battles inside the box.

In his defensive action map, we can note a very high density of actions on the left flank and even in the opposition half, and his high defensive line of engagement reaffirms his front foot approach while defending.

Apart from his defensive qualities, it’s Rüdiger’s on-ball qualities that make him so special, and a catalyst for teams in possession.

Ball carrying

Rüdiger’s progressive carries

Rüdiger is a very adept ball carrier, capable of breaking the first line of pressure and helping his side out of their own defensive third. His ability to carry the ball over long distances from his own third is world class.

With Rüdiger in the ranks, Madrid will have another line breaking ball carrier in the side. He has exhibited exceptional quality on the ball while playing in Tuchel’s back-three system.

Passing cluster

Rüdiger’s progressive passing clusters

We can look at the prominent progressive passing clusters to understand his passing tendencies and how he likes to progress the ball. We can note three main clusters:

  1. The pass into the midfielder from deep. This pass usually breaks the first line of pressure and finds a midfielder close to the halfway line.
  2. The cluster highlights how Rüdiger can influence games with his passing in the final third and has that creative zing in him.
  3. The long diagonal is a big part of his game. The right footed German is great at switching the point of attack with his passing.

His ability to progress the ball is phenomenal and among the best in the world from the center-back position. He can constantly break lines and pick out targets in between the lines, allowing his team to gain territory. Having a CB who is comfortable in bringing the ball out with his carrying and then having the range to distribute it to different parts of the pitch is a vital aspect in modern football.

Switches

Rüdiger’s ball switches

The German’s comfort on the ball is exhibited in his ability to switch the point of attack. Having Rüdiger besides Militao, who also has exhibited great range in his passing, could enable Madrid to quickly reach the final third of the pitch in one sweeping move. It is also an effective strategy in releasing pressure as teams can try to suck the opposition onto one side of the pitch before playing the long diagonal to the free side to catch them on the break.

Rüdiger’s success rate of 83.78% on these diagonal balls demonstrate the range and accuracy he possesses on the ball.

He can add a creative zing with his passing as well. His control and execution of chipped balls in behind the defensive lines to pick out runners is excellent. He can target the space or the man with his passes and add a direct option in Real Madrid’s attacking repertoire.

Aerial duels

At 1.9m, Rüdiger is an aerially imposing figure in the backline. He is physically dominant in his duels and wins most of his aerial duels. Currently with Alaba and Militao, Real Madrid have struggled with defending crosses and set-pieces with Alaba being a liability in the air. Adding Rüdiger to the ranks not only boosts Madrid’s threat from attacking set-pieces but also solidifies their defensive approach against them.

Rüdiger’s aerial duels

His overall aerial success rate of 71.3% is much higher than both Militao and Alaba. A win rate of 66.67% in the defensive penalty area and 58.33% in the opposition penalty area over the last two seasons reassures his value as a two-way force from dead ball situations.

He can let one rip from range from time to time, making him a shooting threat from distance. His most recent goal for Chelsea was a ripper from a long range against Brentford.

Importance as a leader in the squad

Apart from the very obvious qualities he adds to the squad, there is an inexplicable quality of leadership that Rüdiger will add to Real Madrid. After the departure of Sergio Ramos, that hole was filled by David Alaba, who quickly adapted to life at Madrid. Having another commanding figure at the back should help in bringing about an organized defensive structure to the side and further help Militao develop into a top player.

His presence in the backline would also enable Carlo Ancelotti to use Alaba out wide, where the Austrian can demonstrate his attacking attributes. Alaba’s crossing is a weapon that Madrid can further exploit to create chances from the left flank, where Mendy has been rather underwhelming. Rüdiger if need be can provide an option at fullback in desperate times.

Doubts over his fit in a back-four seemed to be blown out of proportion. Overall it’s a little to no risk signing for Madrid with massive upside. It’s a signing that will provide a big boost in a position Madrid lack real depth at.