As we hit the final full week of February, Chelsea are running out of time to persuade Antonio Rudiger to sign a new contract.
Rudiger is one of three Chelsea centre-backs to be out of contract this summer, alongside Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta, none of whom the Blues can really afford to lose at this season. Thiago Silva was also out of contract in the summer but his future has been secured, and Rudiger is the next priority.
The German is at the peak of his powers, shining under Thomas Tuchel having previously looked lost at the start of last season, falling out of favour with Frank Lampard and appearing set for a departure in 2021. But fast forward a year, Rudiger is a European and world champion and one of the best centre-backs in the game, which is why he has so many clubs lining up to set him in the summer.
Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are among those looking to sign Rudiger, who former Chelsea centre-back John Terry believes the club are lucky to have.
“I love you brother. What a player, the passion he shows for our club is what I love to see,” Terry said in a Q&A session on his Instagram page.
“Great defender and an absolute animal. Lucky to have you at our club.”
It does appear that the feeling is mutual, with Rudiger recently expressing his happiness at Chelsea – though he also insisted there is more to it than just that when it comes to signing a new deal.
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“I feel great here, I have always said it,” he told The Athletic earlier this month.
“I think the way I play you can see that I’m happy here. But there are also other people who have to make decisions.”
However, as things stand Rudiger is on his way out and would be free to talk to clubs about a potential move right now. So Chelsea will have to start preparing for the worst and plan for Rudiger replacements. The question is, who?
Dream: Jules Kounde
Jules Kounde has been Chelsea’s target for quite some time and it would make sense for them to go for the Frenchman yet again in the summer transfer window. Only recently 23, Kounde is one for the future and the now, already playing at a high level for Sevilla and also subject to interest from elsewhere.
Kounde is one of the clearest replacements for Rudiger when it comes to the German’s key skillset, being an excellent passer. The Sevilla centre-back has averaged 70.99 attempted passes per 90 minutes in La Liga this season and 63.17 completed, more than Rudiger in the Premier League on both accounts. Of course, this will be aided by his time as a full-back but Rudiger gets so far forward for Chelsea at times that the disparity isn’t actually that much. Clearly comfortable with the ball at his feet, Kounde has also attempted 10.21 final third passes in La Liga this season and 7.17 long passes.
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The one downside is that Kounde is a right-sided centre-back so would be a less-direct replacement for Rudiger who plays on the left for Chelsea (though he is right-footed). But that’s only a minor downside and would be remedied by other players should Chelsea’s backline take a big hit in the summer.
Realistic: Levi Colwill
Probably the most realistic and financially viable option for Chelsea is to look within, with Trevoh Chalobah stepping into a more frequent role. But there is also a loanee that could fill the gap or certainly provide competition for places.
Colwill is currently thriving on loan with Huddersfield Town in the Championship, his first spell away from Chelsea, playing 20 league matches before an injury cut his progress at the start of 2022. But in those 20 matches, Huddersfield have kept nine clean sheets with Colwill on the pitch, and he’s still only 18.
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The teenager has shown his defensive capabilities in the Championship this season, averaging 2.06 tackles per 90 minutes and 4.48 clearances, and while the passing is lacking due to different systems, Colwill has been tipped to go far by one of his team-mates.
“Levi Colwill will go on to be a big talent – he’ll play at the top,” Huddersfield captain Jonathan Hogg said recently.
Could that be as soon as next season?
Wildcard: Mohammed Salisu
Should Chelsea want to look a bit closer to home, but still outside of Cobham, Mohammed Salisu is getting along nicely at Southampton. The Ghanaian centre-back is still only 22 but is one of the top defenders in the Premier League, albeit slightly under the radar.
Compared to centre-backs in the Premier League this season, Salisu has the most ball recoveries (167), most interceptions (58) and the most tackles made (57). He has also won 64% of his aerial duels and has attempted 9.51 final third passes per 90 in the Premier League this season.
Like Colwill, Chelsea will want higher passing numbers but that would come when put into the Blues’ system and given time to get used to the why Thomas Tuchel has his side play. Best of all, Salisu is also taller than Rudiger so Chelsea would actually be gaining height at the back rather than losing it with the aforementioned duo.