Real Madrid favourites to sign Antonio Rüdiger on a free

German defender yet to make progress with Chelsea over renewing his contract

Real Madrid have emerged as favourites to sign Antonio Rüdiger after positive talks with the Chelsea defender about joining on a free next summer.

Rüdiger is yet to make progress with Chelsea over renewing his contract and the possibility of his leaving is a worry for Thomas Tuchel, who is dealing with uncertainty surrounding four defenders. César Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Thiago Silva are also out of contract at the end of the season, although Silva is expected to agree a one-year extension soon.

Tuchel has said that he does not want to lose Rüdiger, who played a key role in Chelsea winning the Champions League last season. The 28-year-old, who can start negotiating a pre-contract agreement with foreign clubs from January 1st, turned down Chelsea's opening offer of £140,000 a week and is believed to want closer to £200,000 a week. The Germany international, who earns about £90,000 a week, has been in outstanding form this season and believes he should be on a similar level to the club's top earners.

There has been no breakdown in Rüdiger's relationship with Chelsea, with both parties understood to view the situation as amicable, but the club's hierarchy remains reluctant to return with an improved offer. That has opened the door for Madrid, who are leading the race to sign the centre-back. Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich are interested in Rüdiger, but talks with Madrid are understood to have progressed at an encouraging pace.

Rüdiger is one of the biggest personalities in Chelsea's dressing room and underlined his importance by winning two penalties in last Saturday's 3-2 win over Leeds. His attractiveness to Madrid is obvious; the La Liga leaders would not have to pay a fee for one of the best defenders in the world and are willing to meet his demands.

Chelsea have been left frustrated by Christensen changing his mind after twice reaching an agreement over a new deal. However there is confidence the centre-back will eventually commit himself to Chelsea.

There is even more optimism over Silva. The Brazilian has impressed since joining on a free from PSG in 2020 and wants to stay for another season. The 37-year-old remains in good shape and hopes to play at the World Cup in Qatar.

Tuchel values Silva's leadership and he has similar respect for Azpilicueta, who joined Chelsea from Marseille in 2012. Azpilicueta has been a hugely reliable figure and the expectation remains that the club captain will commit to another year, although there is strong interest in the 32-year-old Spain right-back from Atlético Madrid and Barcelona.

Atlético could need to replace Kieran Trippier, who wants to return to England, and Barcelona's financial position means they are on the hunt for free transfers. Azpilicueta is happy at Chelsea despite often sitting on the bench this season, but he could decide that this is a good time to return to Spain. – Guardian

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