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Antonio Rudiger hardly put in a display at Fulham that will leave Kurt Zouma quaking in his boots

Published on: 16 January 2021

In the dark skies above Frank Lampard's technical area, a network of scaffolding weaves along the foundations of Craven Cottage's new stand.

Girders hang over the river banks and for Antonio Rudiger this provided the perfect setting to build some bridges, too.

For much of this season, the German's future has lingered in limbo. Here, with a rare chance to start, he collected a clean sheet and 90 minutes. But his place in purgatory looks secure for now.

In this win at Fulham, the centre back did little to suggest Lampard was wrong to shuffle his pack but it was hardly a display to leave Kurt Zouma quaking, either.

For a time, of course, it looked certain that the Germany international would never reach this point in the season. At least not in Chelsea blue.

There was never any animosity between player and coach but Lampard's selections spoke for themselves: Rudiger was left out of the squad for six of their first seven games; Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain were both keen to take him on loan.

By late October, he was in from the cold but chances remained limited as Chelsea stretched an unbeaten run to 17 matches. Then, with Lampard searching for ways out of a recent rut, a chink of light.

Simple squad rotation? Lampard's words suggested otherwise. His decision to pick Rudiger over Zouma was based on Chelsea's form, the German's displays in training – and the need for personality.

Rudiger is a big character within the squad but, with him having played only two league games all season, it still seemed a significant show of faith. One Rudiger needed to repay.

From an early Fulham attack, he stretched to cut out Antonee Robinson's low cross before staying big to block the follow-up shot, too.

Then, after half an hour, his downward header was brilliantly kept out of the bottom corner by Alphonse Areola.

But there were lapses in possession and concentration, too.

Not least when Rudiger was too slow to spot Ivan Cavaleiro in space - and too cumbersome to close him down. Fortunately for Chelsea, Cavaleiro fluffed the glorious opening.

Robinson's red card changed the game and thereafter Rudiger and Co were there to switch the barrage from side to side. The irony, of course, is that by dropping Zouma to the bench, Lampard had robbed his side of one of their most dangerous goal threats.

But if Rudiger is to ensure this is more than a brief return to the spotlight, it's in the other box that he will have to make the difference.


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