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Rüdiger ready to be the hero Chelsea deserve and the defensive leader we need

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Welcome back, Toni!

Chelsea FC v Lille OSC: Group H - UEFA Champions League Photo by Chris Lee - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Antonio Rüdiger made his long-awaited return to active duty on Tuesday, and while Chelsea still managed to contrive to not keep a clean sheet — 22nd time in 25 games in all competitions this season that we’ve conceded at least one goal — he himself looked healthy and fit in the 2-1 win over Lille, and that’s surely a good thing as we move deeper into the busy festive period.

It will undoubtedly take a bit more time for Toni to return to true form, but after just 45 minutes of competitive action since May, it was great to see him come through a full 90 minutes unscathed. Afterwards, Rüdiger chalked that up to the recovery plan devised by Chelsea, including a pseudo-preseason that Lampard insisted on to mimic the physical prep-work that normally happens in the summer.

“The coach let me have a little pre-season. It was for two and a half, almost three weeks. I really thank him. It was good for the legs but not for the heart so it was a really good idea from him. It feels good.

”It’s been a long time, it’s been a while now, but I’m very happy that everything went well and we are in the round of 16. I’m very happy. I missed everything as well. It was a good match for both sides. That is why you play football.

“I have to say thank you to everyone - the backroom staff, the coaches for their patience, and also the fans for their patience.”

Chelsea’s defensive woes mean that we’ll need Rüdiger back to his best as soon as humanly possible — without risking another injury of course! — even if that places undue expectations and pressure on the 26-year-old.

Sounds like Rüdiger’s ready to step up to that responsibility however.

“I don’t read too much [about fans wanting me back]. That’s why I don’t really feel the pressure. But it’s also good if the people want me back and of course, there is a little bit of pressure. It’s good in football when you have a little bit of pressure because then you are ready to perform.”

“I hope soon [I will be at my best]! Of course, it makes a difference after a long time injured. You need some games to come into but if the coach has the intention to let me play then I will never say no if the coach needs me.”

After playing a key role in Conte’s and Sarri’s systems in the last two seasons, Rüdiger will now have to do the same in Lampard’s. There’s of course the added wrinkle that he is now suddenly thrust into a leadership role as well as the elder statesman and most experienced player of the center back group. Fortunately, he has good role models to emulate in that regard in Gary Cahill and David Luiz, and is ready to nurture the young talents on whom we already depend to a great extent.

“I see myself as helping them, as always. As I did in the other years in the team when I played with David Luiz or Gary Cahill ... I am loud on the pitch. Especially with the young guys because you need to help them.

”There will be a period – that is normal because we are all human – that you will fall a bit, the performances will go down. But there especially you need to – and me as the most experienced in the back – need to help those young guys. I’m in for that.

”In my position, it is very important to speak, to be loud because I have the whole pitch in front of me and this has always been natural to me. I always have, even when I was young, been commanding.”

Antonio Rüdiger, the non-silent guardian, the watchful protector, etc.

How well he can accomplish all these goals — from his own level of performance, to the leadership he can provide — could play a significant role in determining just how well we do in the last two-thirds of the season.

The season has gone well enough so far, even good in many respects, but the recent wobbles have raised a few (very valid) concerns. Rüdiger may not be a one-man savior in that regard, but he should be very helpful indeed.

“At the moment, we have to take every game step by step. We are in the top four and we are five points ahead of the fifth-place team. We are in a good position but we need to be aware of performances like Everton and West Ham.”

-Antonio Rüdiger; source: Goal

Go get ‘em, Toni!