Football News

“Prime” Antonio Rudiger is the world’s best defender, according to former teammate Mesut Ozil

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:48, 4 January 2024

Former Germany and Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil has hailed Antonio Rudiger as the best defender in the world right now.

Rudiger has played all but one game for Real Madrid in La Liga this season as they sit top of the table, ahead of second-placed Girona on goal difference. Although tiebreakers in La Liga are settled on head-to-head, that doesn’t come into play until the reverse fixture is done, and it is Real Madrid’s defence keeping them on top.

Los Blancos have the second-best attack in La Liga this season, scoring six fewer goals than Girona, but have by far and away the best defence. In their 19 games so far, Real Madrid have conceded just 11 goals, keeping 10 clean sheets.

One of those clean sheets came in a 3-0 win over Girona at the end of September, while the 10th was wrapped up with a 1-0 victory against Real Mallorca in the return from the winter break.

It was Rudiger who got the crucial goal against Mallorca, heading home his first of the season with just over 10 minutes left to play.

After the game, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti was full of praise for Rudiger, insisting the German is playing at his best.

“He has taken advantage of others’ injuries. He is performing at a very high level, with continuity. He is always ready in duels,” he told reporters.

“He is an insurance that we have behind. He is playing at his best.”

Ancelotti’s views were echoed by Ozil, who played with Rudiger at senior international level for Germany. The former Arsenal and Real Madrid midfielder was more absolute with his words, however, sticking Rudiger clear above every other centre-back.

“Prime Toni Rüdiger is just the world’s best defender at the moment,” he wrote on X.

“Incredible season for my former club Real Madrid. You can also ask (Erling) Haaland or (Victor) Osimhen how good he is!

“Look what has happened with Chelsea after he left … they are missing his mentality every day.”

Haaland failed to score in both meetings against Real Madrid last season and Man City were already 2-0 up in the second leg by the time Rudiger was brought off the bench. Osimhen, meanwhile, did not score in either of Napoli’s games against Real Madrid in the Champions League this season.

As previously mentioned, Real Madrid have kept 10 clean sheets in La Liga this season, with nine of those coming while Rudiger has been on the pitch. The German averages three clearances per game in La Liga, has won 65.22% of his aerial duels and 44.19% of his ground duels. Rudiger also has a pass accuracy of 89.32%, averaging 51.76 completed passes per match.

But how does he compare to some of the in-form centre-backs in Europe this season?

Make your own comparisons with the Comparison Matrix

Across some select names across Europe’s top five leagues, there is one clear winner right now, and it’s a name back on everyone’s lips. Virgil van Dijk had a rough spell after returning from his ACL injury suffered a few years back, and there were some worries that he would never return to his best. But the Dutchman is arguably the best centre-back in the Premier League right now.

Comparing Van Dijk to Rudiger as shown above, the Dutchman outperforms his German counterpart per 90 minutes when it comes to recoveries (5.2 to 4.1), long passes attempted (7.9 to 5.8) and accuracy (63.24% to 45.54%). In fact, he comes out on top in every selected metric crucial to a modern day centre-back against Rudiger.

Van Dijk isn’t the best at everything in our select group, however. Dayot Upamecano comes out on top with 8.7 recoveries per 90 minutes, as well as his 1.8 tackles made, 68.97% long pass accuracy and 2.6 ground duels won per 90. PSG’s Marquinhos avers 1.3 blocks per 90, while Ruben Dias matches Virgil van Dijk for 28.2 forward passes per 90.

Make your own comparisons with the Comparison Matrix

Even when you look at other La Liga centre-backs, it’s Ronald Araujo who comes out on top in most metrics. When compared to Araujo, David Alaba and Jose Maria Giminez, Rudiger only bests the trio for blocks, averaging 0.9 per 90 minutes.

In his own team, Alaba beats Rudiger for ground duel success (59.09% to 44.19%) and interceptions (1.2 to 0.9 per 90), though of course there is the caveat there that they will play different roles in Real Madrid’s defence. Rudiger may be on top form right now, but he definitely has a lot of competition for the “world’s best defender at the moment”.