One of the most exciting things about Antonio Rudiger from Chelsea’s perspective is his ability to play in numerous roles across the backline.
Cesar Azpilicueta was arguably the only player among the Blues’ defensive options last season who was able to offer Chelsea the kind of versatility they sorely required when the likes of Victor Moses and/or Marcos Alonso required rests at wing-back.
Rudiger’s arrival should cure that particular conundrum and also present Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill with their own challenge of retaining their places in the starting XI.
The £32m buy from Roma is unlikely to walk into the starting XI but provides much-needed competition for places, something which just was not apparent last season.
Andreas Christensen’s return from his profitable loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach should ensure Chelsea have even more options in the centre of defence despite the departures of John Terry and Nathan Ake to Aston Villa and Bournemouth respectively.
Ake’s return saw him provide Conte with a more versatile defensive option but the Italian’s decision to allow him to move to former loan club Bournemouth suggests he was not considered someone who could rival the established order in Chelsea’s back three.
The Dutchman’s ability to play as a left wing-back appeared to be a useful commodity to Conte and Chelsea but the pursuit of Alex Sandro in a possible world-record transfer from Juventus is proof that he wishes for a significant upgrade on Alonso in that position.
All of a sudden, the left wing-back position would look much stronger with the potential acquisition of Sandro.
Yet there is a feeling that Chelsea lack an understudy – or rather a rival – to Victor Moses on the other flank.
Rudiger could be the answer due to his capability with both feet, athletic attributes and work ethic but his presence too could see Azpilicueta advance into that position if Conte chose to rest or drop Moses.
Azpilicueta’s ventures forward into midfield areas were a feature of the latter stages of Chelsea’s season and his adventurousness from the right-hand side has reportedly led Conte to consider a tactical switch that would see the Spaniard line up there more often.
The purchase of Rudiger has helped free up that possibility, with the signing from Roma filling in the right-sided central defensive berth that Azpilicueta made his own in an outstanding 2016/17 season.
Moses’ defensive inadequacies were exposed on the biggest of stages last season, namely for Arsenal’s first goal in the FA Cup final and for both f Dele Alli’s goals in the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham at the turn of the year and Azpilicueta would benefit from Rudiger’s presence in the team.
The Spaniard at times appeared unsure with Moses in front of him and though the Nigerian was a revelation in a previously unfamiliar position to him, Chelsea require more solidity defensively in the position against the very best.
Rudiger would offer that to Azpilicueta if the German played on the right flank and vice versa.
Conte has finally landed his first notable signing of the transfer window – and it could yet be one of the more important despite its rather understated nature.