Antonio Rudiger heads into the biggest game of Chelsea’s season positioned front and centre of the storm.
You get the impression that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Marginalised at the start of the season, Rudiger’s career at Stamford Bridge appeared to be drawing to a close.
Thomas Tuchel has harness Antonio Rudiger’s intensity since coming in as Chelsea boss
The German’s man management is being tested by Rudiger’s fallout with Kepa Arrizabalaga
Fast-forward nine months and he’s one of the first names on the team-sheet for Thomas Tuchel.
One of the comeback stories of the season, Rudiger’s return has been integral to Chelsea’a improvement under their recently appointed German coach.
His heated confrontation with team-mate Kepa Arrizabalaga on Sunday has cast an unwanted cloud over Chelsea’s preparations for Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final clash against Porto.
Tuchel sent Rudiger in early from training to calm down – though the pair are said to have buried the hatchet later on.
Yet, Tuchel may not have been totally surprised at the way things escalated. Rudiger trains like he plays – in top gear.
He wants to win, seriously hates losing. Off the back of Chelsea’s first defeat in 15 matches – a game Rudiger was rested for – against West Brom on Saturday the central defender wasn’t in the mood for niceties.
There is always a happy medium, of course. Nurturing a team-bond remains one of the key facets of any team sport.
But you’d imagine Tuchel would much rather have Rudiger on his side than not. He cares – maybe too much, if there’s such a thing.
That shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. Tuchel has been able to harness Rudiger’s intensity, much to Chelsea’s benefit.
The numbers speak for themselves. From his 13 Premier League appearances this season, Rudiger’s been on the losing side just once.
Rudiger has been a rock for the Blues having fallen out of favour under Frank Lampard
]Arrizabalaga (left) and Rudiger (right) were involved in a heated clash in training on Sunday
From those top-flight matches he’s played in, Chelsea have conceded just five goals.
From his six Champions league appearances thus far this season, Chelsea have conceded just once with Rudiger in the team.
Rudiger hasn’t been on the losing side in the 11 matches he has played since Tuchel’s arrival in January; Chelsea conceding just two goals in those games.
The 28-year-old was rested Chelsea’s 5-2 defeat to the Baggies – Tuchel’s only loss out of the 15 games he’s been in charge.
The numbers make convincing reading. His statistics are comparable with any central defender in European football.
No wonder Tuchel’s so heavily reliant on him.
The centre-back puts his body on the line and brings a competitive edge to his team
Yet, amid his re-emergence as the foundation Chelsea’s defence is built; there is growing uncertainty over Rudiger’s future.
The centre-half is entering the final 12 months of his contract, and as it stands, the Blues aren’t planning on discussing a new deal until after the European Championships, where Rudiger is expected to play a lead role for Germany.
In just nine months time, Rudiger will be able to discuss a free transfer with foreign clubs. It’s a scenario Chelsea will be eager to avoid, of course.
Quite how eager will be in the detail of those highly anticipated contract extension talks. Money talks, of course.
But the sporting aspect will be just as intriguing. Tuchel appears to trust Rudiger and vice versa, Chelsea’s head coach will not want any uncertainty over his key defender’s future heading into the start of next season.
But agreeing a new deal won’t necessarily be that easy. Clubs across Europe will be taking notice of Rudiger’s contractual situation, the opportunity to sign one of the most polished central defenders on the continent on a free transfer or a cut-price deal an enticing prospect.
A successful Euros with Germany could add another complication to Chelsea’s chances of extending Rudiger’s contract.
Rudiger is relaxed about his contract situation but wants to remain at Stamford Bridge
Yet there does appear a willingness from Rudiger to stay at Stamford Bridge.
When asked about his future last month, he said: ‘At the end of the day, everyone, me and the club know how much I like this club so it’s down to people who make these types of decisions.
‘Even at the beginning of the season when things didn’t go my way I was always calm.
‘At the end of day I can’t give myself a contract I have to wait to see what happens. But I’ve always said I love it here in Chelsea. Chelsea will always be my priority.’
For now, Rudiger’s priority is a place in the Champions League semi-final.