Antonio Rüdiger: Real Madrid’s Kaiser in Defense

Stamford Bridge’s modest 43-000 capacity was never going to be enough to entertain the histrionics of Antonio Rüdiger.


Whilst the German defender will forever be grateful to Chelsea for giving him the platform to perform – finding his voice and producing a string of metronomic displays as the Blues marched towards an unprecedented Champions League title, he always felt destined for the biggest stage, the brightest lights. 



Out of the shadows and into the stratosphere. Rüdiger has taken his chances, changed his fortunes and never once looked back. It’s a testament to the confidence he exudes both on and off the pitch that he has settled so seamlessly into a team who’d just come off the back of their 14th Champions League title when he arrived on a free transfer in 2022.


Rüdiger was trusted early on at Madrid. His presence as a leader during a difficult 2021/22 season for Chelsea, with owner Roman Abramovich being made to sell the club amidst his ties to Russia, meant he was ready to step in when required.


Real, though, is an institution, a standard that is the envy of Europe and whilst Rüdiger was steady it wasn’t until he got to grips with Erling Haaland in the Santiago Bernabéu during Madrid’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Manchester City, that he exhibited the ability to dominate the occasion that made Sergio Ramos and Pepe so revered in the royal white of Madrid.


Madrid fan Muddassir Hussain believes Rüdiger is “arguably the best CB in the world this season,” and he credits the first leg against City as the moment the centre-half announced himself as a player who thrives off the pressure of pulling on the Madrid shirt.



“I think the turning point for me was the 1st leg last season when he completely kept Haaland quiet at the Bernabeu, but was infamously dropped for the 2nd leg.”


That second leg was momentous not only for Rüdiger but for Madrid. Systematically torn apart by City, their discipline and stoicism in this year’s quarter-final second-leg, with Rüdiger in the starting XI, owed a lot to the lessons learnt at the Etihad last season. 


“Rüdiger has been unbelievable this season. I feel really comfortable with him in big games because I know he’s very likely to have a complete performance.”



Whilst at fault for Kevin De Bruyne’s equaliser, the German picked himself up to score the winning penalty to send Madrid through to their fourth successive Champions League semi-final. A player who relishes the big moments, he reacts to setbacks rather than hiding from them and has cemented his reputation as a leader within Real’s young squad.


“He brings leadership, he brings calmness and importantly, he brings something which we’ve lacked since Ramos left, a player who lets the opponent’s number nine know that he’s there. That type of CB which wins the battle in the first challenge of the game, with a nudge or a tackle, rendering the striker numb for the rest of the game.”


Amidst the chaos and the constant pursuit of success, it’s often hard to remain patient at Madrid. Rüdiger is an eager defender who excels in the throes of a tackle. But this can often lead to an overzealousness that opponents look to exploit.


But whilst Muddassir feels Rüdiger can take unnecessary risks, he believes that he is a key part of Madrid’s strongest defence alongside Éder Militão, and his performances this season have displayed more measure and control.



“I do think we’re now at the stage that Militão-Rüdiger is our best CB pairing, and David Alaba has to drop to third choice once he’s back. I think what he lacks is sometimes a bit of patience when it isn’t a big game, he can go missing for a bit and take risks, but this season he’s done far less of that.”


Few players have evolved their game in recent years quite like Antonio Rüdiger. Outcast under Frank Lampard, the mistakes that made him a reckless but lovable rogue type figure during much of his time in England have disappeared, and he’s become a dependable option capable of raising his game for the big occasion. 


By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Chris Lee – Chelsea FC