Carlo Ancelotti has refused to acknowledge transfer rumours linking Chelsea’s outgoing defensive star Antonio Rudiger to Real Madrid.
The no-nonsense German defender will see his contract at Stamford Bridge expire at the end of this current season and speculation of a move to the Bernabeu has gained considerable traction in recent days, with reports indicating that a deal has already been struck between both parties.
Blues boss Thomas Tuchel told reporters at the weekend that Rudiger has rejected proposals put forward by Chelsea to extend his contract in west London and that he will depart when the summer transfer window opens.
Following Real Madrid’s frantic 4-3 loss to Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday night, Ancelotti was quizzed on the potential of Rudiger joining his side at the end of the campaign, but the Italian coach jokingly refused to even acknowledge the defender’s existence.
“Toni Rudiger? Toni who? Who’s this?” Ancelotti quipped to beIN Sports. “He’s still a Chelsea player. I can’t say anything about this.”
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It was confirmed by Tuchel following Chelsea’s 1-0 Premier League win over West Ham on Sunday that the club had made considerable efforts to tie Rudiger down to a longer-term deal in the capital, but fresh terms were able to be agreed upon.
Tuchel told Sky Sports: “The situation is that he wants to leave the club. He informed me of this in a private talk.
“We gave everything – me and the club – but we could not fight anymore because of the actions. Without the sanctions we would at least be able to carry on fighting, but our hands are tied. We don’t take it personally. It is his decision.
“He is a key figure and will stay that way until the end of the season. But it is disappointing. We will miss him a lot. He gives courage in the dressing room. The kind everyone is afraid of, but the kind to play 50-55 games at an outstanding level. He is a top defender in the last one-and-a-half years for me. We then need to find another solution.”
Attention now turns to the summer window for Chelsea and the urgency for defensive reinforcements, with Andreas Christensen also set to join Barcelona upon the expiration of his contract, though the crisis klaxons have just eased slightly after Cesar Azpilicueta recently triggered a one-year extension on his deal — which was also due to expire at the end of June.
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As it currently stands, Chelsea are unable to make new signings or pen fresh terms with existing players after the UK Government imposed sanctions on the club, though a sale is expected to be complete before the end of next month, which would allow the new owners to make transfers in the summer.
One of those could be long-term target Jules Kounde, who looked set to join the club last summer, only for Sevilla to hold firm and retain the services of their prized defensive asset. Given the predicament Tuchel currently finds himself in, interest is expected to rejuvenate in the coming weeks.
And it is being reported by The Times that Kounde has his heart set on leaving the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium this summer, handing the Blues a major transfer boost as they look to fill the soon-to-be gaping hole in the heart of their defence.
A more neat and nimble ball-player, Kounde is an archetypal modern centre-back in every regard: slick in possession, a cultured right boot and an excellent passing range, while he stands at 5ft 11in compared to Rudiger’s towering 6ft 3in frame. On paper, the two players don’t appear to be cut from the same cloth.
His German counterpart is aggressive, watertight and a physically-robust specimen, but that’s not to downplay Rudiger’s ball-playing credentials. An 87.76% passing accuracy in the Premier League this season is no mean feat when he has completed the second-most final-third passes of any centre-back in the division (287), emphasising his front-foot, progressive approach in Tuchel’s system.
Kounde meanwhile has completed 180 final-third passes, 100 less than Rudiger, but that still places him in La Liga’s top four among centre-backs, perhaps highlighting the contrast in playing styles between both divisions, more than anything.
Kounde’s real strengths come with the ball at his feet. The Frenchman has attempted the most take-ons of any centre-back in La Liga this term (35) and created the second-most chances (14). In a system where he will have slightly more license to roam forward as a bit of an overlapping centre-back, this could actually be an area where Chelsea will get the best out of him.
The graphic below shows how much higher the centre-backs in Chelsea’s system push up the pitch, which could be where Kounde really excels at the Bridge given the dribbling and playmaker qualities intimated above.
Creative exploits aside, Kounde’s reputation as a ball-player actually belies his defensive capabilities. In La Liga this season he has made 174 ball recoveries (fourth-most in La Liga among centre-backs) and won 147 duels (sixth best in the division). For context, Rudiger has managed 154 and 104 for both metrics respectively.
So, it appears Tuchel would be getting a bit of an all-rounder if he could genuinely pull this one off.