Antonio Rüdiger committed to Chelsea cause
Germany centre back has been revitalised since Thomas Tuchel took over as manager
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane (left) and Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger battle for the ball at Anfield. Photograph: Phil Noble/PA Wire
Antonio Rüdiger has said he wants to sign a new contract at Chelsea despite admitting he was shocked to lose his place at the start of the season and considered offers from Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham.
The Germany centre back, whose contract expires in June 2022, has experienced a change in fortunes since Chelsea replaced Frank Lampard with Thomas Tuchel in January. Rüdiger fell out of favour under Lampard after the arrival of Thiago Silva last summer and wanted to leave after being omitted from several matchday squads.
His situation alerted PSG, who were managed by Tuchel, and he spoke to José Mourinho about joining Spurs on loan. Rüdiger, who is in line to start when Chelsea host Atlético Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday, was unhappy after being frozen out by Lampard.
“I was obviously shocked,” Rüdiger said. “Some things I saw coming. Not being in the squad at all was not something I saw coming. But I took it on the chin. There were two teams – but mainly one team I was considering. PSG and there was a call also with Mourinho but this is something that didn’t happen.
“I was a bit upset because I knew I would not be playing that often. But then I had talks with Lampard and all of sudden I was back on the bench and then I had a couple of games. I just worked my way back. I played the last games of his reign and now things are going well.
“I’m very happy about it, but to be honest I always felt well in the club. They treated me nice, especially the board. No one told me you should leave, neither did Frank Lampard. The loans didn’t happen. But nobody told me I should leave.”
Rüdiger has become an integral player under Tuchel, who has conceded two goals in his first 12 games as manager, and is waiting to start talks over a contract extension. “It’s down to people who make these types of decisions, but at the moment for me it’s to concentrate on important matches,” the 28-year-old said. “I’m sure we will resolve it.
“When things didn’t go my way I was always calm. I can’t give myself a contract, I have to wait to see what happens. But I love it here. Chelsea will always be my priority.”
Chelsea beat Atlético 1-0 in the first leg but they face La Liga’s leaders without the suspended Mason Mount and Jorginho, and Silva and Tammy Abraham are injured. Tuchel expects a tough test and acknowledged that he is looking for the best formula in attack. However, the German dismissed reports that Chelsea could sell Timo Werner this summer.
“There is simply no time to reflect on what is going to be in summer or next year,” Tuchel said. “I don’t see why he should be frustrated. Maybe all the stuff you read will hopefully disappear soon.”
Meanwhile, João Félix will start against Chelsea, Diego Simeone has confirmed. That should not be news – the Portuguese forward is the club’s record signing at €126m and their most technically gifted player – but it is.
Félix has started only one of the past four games and on the eve of the trip to London for the second leg of the last-16 Champions League tie he faced questions about his relationship with the Atlético Madrid manager, which has appeared strained amid doubts around his commitment and concerns about his apparent stagnation.
When Félix came on as a sub and scored against Villarreal at the end of February, he turned towards the sideline, shot a defiant, angry look, raised his finger to his lips and mouthed: “shut the f**k up.” Afterwards, Simeone pointedly noted that maybe the reaction revealed the frustration of someone who had “not scored for some time”. He also claimed to welcome footballers who “rebel”, only to leave the attacker out of the starting XI to face Real Madrid and again this week against Getafe.
But the Atlético manager confirmed that Félix would start at Stamford Bridge, where Atlético will attempt to overcome a 1-0 home defeat in the first leg, while Félix has insisted that his gesture was directed not at his manager but at teammate Renan Lodi. “He was winding me up before the game, telling me I didn’t score against anyone and when I got the goal I did the gesture for him,” the Portuguese said. “You lot like to talk about things you don’t know anything about and create a controversy.”
“My relationship with ‘Cholo’ is very good. He always tries to help me and we’re here to help each other,” Félix added. “I am happy here. You have moments that are not so good and maybe this is one of them but I’m sure I will come through it.”
Asked if he lacked commitment and attitude, Félix replied: “Without the desire, talent is not enough. There are lots of examples of players who are very talented but lack something to make it to the top and I don’t want to be one of them, so I try to put my talent and my commitment at the service of the team.”
“[João] is a very, very important player. He started the season at an extremely high level, giving a lot of quality to the attack and we need him,” Simeone said. “All players go through different phases, all the more so when they are young. You heard him [just now]; there’s nothing I need to add.”
“I look at the best players and they always have that collective work,” Simeone added. “João never lacked the willingness to do that. We talked about that after a Portugal-France game where we saw him work tremendously hard on the left. His explanation is fantastic, what we all want. To grow and reach the place he wants to reach you have to be complete and work in harmony with a team.”
“We hope he keeps growing because that’s what life is about when you’re 21 years old and you have the talent and the will to reach the level he aspires to.”