Timo Werner can transform his season by firing Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea into the final stages of the Champions League.
That is how Antonio Rudiger sees the opportunity for his fellow German, who has struggled to carry over his Bundesliga goalscoring form into English football.
On Wednesday, Werner looks set to face Atletico Madrid in the second leg of Chelsea’s last-16 European tie, with the Blues holding a 1-0 advantage from the first game.
The former RB Leipzig striker, a big-money acquisition last June, has just 10 goals in 38 games of a season when he has repeatedly misfired.
Among players from Europe’s top five leagues with 10 goals or more in all competitions, Werner ranks 93rd out of 96 in terms of the most proficient in converting ‘big chances’, with a 27.59 per cent success rate. He has scored just eight of 29 such chances, defined by Opta as ‘where a player should reasonably be expected to score’.
“Of course we have conversations, but it’s more conversations to keep him going, to help him,” Rudiger said in Tuesday’s pre-game news conference.
“It’s his first year away from Germany and things are not going maybe the way he wants it, obviously, because he’s a scorer. He wants to bag goals and things aren’t going in his way at the moment.
“For me it’s important to let him know someone’s there for him to support him and I’m very, very sure going into this game tomorrow, sometimes small moments like this in a game like that can turn over everything for a striker and give him a real boost.
“Sometimes in life, if things aren’t going your way, you have to fight through it, which he is doing in my opinion. He’s working a lot and running a lot and I’m very sure things will come his way.
“He needs to be calm and work in silence and, whenever you have the chance on the pitch, to have that hunger to score goals and turn around the situation, but not to make himself crazy, he just has to be calm.”
Defender Rudiger is relishing another chance to take on Luis Suarez, whose conversion of ‘big chances’ has been exceptional this season for Atletico.
Helping the Blues to 15 clean sheets from 20 games (75%)
Toni Rudiger = Brick Wall pic.twitter.com/XkcqxhPzJm
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 16, 2021
The former Barcelona and Liverpool frontman has a 63.64 per cent hit rate (scoring 14 of 22 big chances) from such goal opportunities.
That ranks him second among players from the elite leagues with more than 15 goals of any type this season, beaten only by Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes (16 of 23 big chances for a 69.57 per cent rate).
The first-leg encounter between Rudiger and Suarez was spicy and a reunion could be pivotal to how the tie plays out.
“He is a world-class player, he’s showed it at every club he’s been at in Europe,” Rudiger said.
“He’s a very, very good player and has a lot of fight in him and he’s a tough opponent but he just defends his badge by trying to fight for his team and I do the same.”
Suarez pinched Rudiger on the thigh in a bizarre first-leg incident, which the Chelsea defender put down to “emotions”, and said he “didn’t really feel it that much”.
“Everyone plays a little differently, so it’s OK,” Rudiger said.
Rudiger also opened up about how close he came to leaving Chelsea last September, when it appeared Tuchel’s predecessor Frank Lampard was planning without him.
Paris Saint-Germain – then coached by Tuchel – and Tottenham were heavily linked with him at the time, and Rudiger confirmed both were keen.
“There were two teams – mainly one team – that I was considering. That was PSG, and there was also [Tottenham boss Jose] Mourinho, but this is something that didn’t happen,” he said.
Rudiger said he was “a bit upset” when neither move came off, but thankful at the same time he was not being pushed out of Chelsea.
“Now things are going well for me, I’m very happy about it, but I always felt well in the club,” he said. “No one told me you should leave, the board or Frank Lampard. The loans that I wanted didn’t happen but nobody told me at the club I should leave.”