Antonio Rudiger has been linked with a quite sensational January move to Barcelona.
The German defender has bizarrely fallen down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge and, given his contract is set to expire in 2022, Chelsea were reportedly happy to sell him this past summer. No takers emerged that time, but now the Spanish giants look like wanting to change that.
- Age: 27
- League stats at Chelsea
- Clearances: 252 (second-highest at club)
- Tackles: 93 (seventh-highest)
- Aerial duels won: 199 (second-highest)
- Long passes completed: 364 (highest)
- Football Index value: £0.61 (Buy)
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The answer is simple: depth.
Barcelona’s starting centre-backs are still top-class. Gerard Piqué is one of the very best defenders in the world and Clement Lenglet is a superb talent in his own right. The pair lack mobility, but are otherwise great.
Behind them however, Barcelona only have young Uruguayan Ronald Araujo. They lack a trusted fourth-choice option, so much so that Frenkie de Jong has been drafted in to play in defence with recent injuries and suspensions.
Barcelona were looking to sign Eric Garcia to fill that role, but couldn’t negotiate a fee with Manchester City. It’s likely the Blaugrana will try and sign Garcia again in January but if they are unable to – with negotiations not expected to be straightforward – Rudiger becomes the go-to option.
The positives are obvious: Rudiger possesses overwhelming quality (he’s still a Germany international and just two years ago was man of the match in an FA Cup final victory for Chelsea) both on and off the ball.
The negatives, well, there are none. Given the move would likely be a loan this really is a no-brainer for Barcelona. They’d get an experienced player, proven to be reliably international class, without having to pay a transfer fee they can ill-afford.
Moreover, Rudiger actually adds something Barcelona don’t have: athleticism. Araujo is an incredible physical specimen but is young and seems injury-prone, while Rudiger is a spectacular athlete with the kind of recovery pace Barcelona sorely lack at the back and at 1.90 metres is a phenomenal aerial presence.
But he’s no slouch on the ball either. No Chelsea player has completed more long passes than he has since he moved to Stamford Bridge, and whilst he would not be able to match Lenglet’s ability to slice teams apart, he is comfortably on Piqué’s level in terms of passing.
Furthermore, Barcelona’s coach is one of the all-time great centre-backs in Ronald Koeman, so this loan could end up being the perfect platform for Rudiger to not only provide depth but genuine competition at the back but actually improve as a defender under Koeman’s tutelage (the Dutchman was the man who brought Virgil van Dijk into the Premier League, so safe to say he knows a good centre-back).
Having another centre-back as reliable as Rudiger could also allow Koeman to experiment with different systems, playing three at the back as a way to flood midfield without sacrificing width and pace, as well as insulating his best forwards from having to do too much tracking back which, given they are the 33-year-old Leo Messi and injury-prone Ousmane Dembélé (as well as 18-year-old Ansu Fati who is currently out injured), is a very good thing.
There are so many possibilities that would open up if Barcelona were to bring in Rudiger. Manchester City’s Garcia might be their Plan A, but the Catalan-born defender is average height and has no athletic gifts to speak of so he is no compliment to Piqué and Lenglet at all.
Garcia is someone who will no doubt represent a great addition for Barcelona in a year or so when he really develops the understanding and timing to go along with his already formidable instincts and technique. But Barcelona need someone to step in and perform right now. That means their Plan B, signing Rudiger on loan, is arguably a better choice than their Plan A of “bringing Garcia home”.
Barcelona might want Garcia, but they need Rudiger.