Leeds United may have won just three games in the league all season, but they came in to Saturday’s game with a solid gameplan and even more solid execution of said gameplan despite dealing with their own significant injury issues. We had expected to suffer as a result — as most do — but outside of the first 15-20 minutes, we did not make a very good fist of it unfortunately.
But the one thing Marcelo Bielsa did not and could not account for was Antonio Rüdiger. In fairness, I’m not sure how you would ever prepare for it. The sort of attitude, passion, and plain old sh*thousery that Chelsea’s “emotional leader” brings to the table is not something to can really practice for.
And a game that featured not only five goals, but plenty of hard tackles, feistiness, questionable refereeing, shushing of the away fans by both Mason Mount and César Azpilicueta, and a bit of handbags at the end, even, was perhaps tailor-made for Toni to unleash the one step beyond of what he called “madness” on social media afterwards.
For head coach Thomas Tuchel, it was just another day with Toni.
“If you have Toni, you have Toni [...] the emotional leader and aggressive leader on the pitch. It is 100% Toni and hopefully [during the handbags at the end] there was no harm done.”
Rüdiger’s contributions went beyond just the emotional in this one of course, with the center back winning not one but two penalties for Chelsea — no doubt about either despite some rather confused broadcast commentary — including the one for the winning goal in the added-on time.
Ironically, Leeds’ gameplan played a big part in getting Rüdiger that far forward that often. The 28-year-old needs little encouragement to step into attack on a normal day, so when he’s given space due to the opponents’ strict man-to-man marking all across the pitch, he certainly wasn’t shying away from doing so.
“[Rüdiger] is always important, he did not accept to lose today and we can agree on this one that it was necessary. We expected today that it would be an intense game for Toni and for Azpi because of the very unique style of defending, we expected to have spaces where we could drive on
“They made a lot of pressure, they constantly had to have their focus on defending and also attacking. They let us drive in these spaces but it was good, he did not accept to lose [and] we did everything to turn it around.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
As emotionally uplifting as it all turned out to be in the end, Chelsea’s performance was hardly ideal, giving up two more goals and yet another lead. Winning in this madcap way is certainly not sustainable, as Rüdiger himself knows.
“It was tough because you have to respect the way Leeds play. It’s very intense with lots of runs. All over the pitch it is one v one. Very tough. [But] City and Liverpool won so we [couldn’t] afford to slip-up any more and lose games.
“These last couple of weeks it’s not like the teams have outplayed us, we have given the goals to them. We need to stop this.”
-Antonio Rüdiger; source: BBC
Oh, and as far as Toni’s contract, Tuchel had no update and urged patience with it before the game, adding that no player is bigger than the club.
And while that’s certainly true, Rüdiger was a giant of a man on Saturday.