Amid all the ongoing uncertainty facing Chelsea, one key area of concern remains the future of defensive colossus and cult hero Antonio Rudiger, with the German international potentially set to walk away from Stamford Bridge on a free transfer this summer as his current contract nears its expiry.
The 29-year-old – who joined the club from Serie A side Roma in a £34m deal back in 2017 – had initially struggled in his new surroundings and fell by the wayside during Frank Lampard’s second season in charge, only for the arrival of compatriot Thomas Tuchel to spark a real sea change for the rampaging centre-back, as he since been integral to the club’s rapid turnaround in fortunes under the former Paris Saint-Germain boss.
Despite continuing to thrive as an integral part of the Blues’ stubborn backline, it continues to look as if the 6 foot 3 defender will be moving on to pastures new next season, with the club currently unable to offer a new deal owing to the ongoing sanctions facing the west London outfit, albeit with the player’s reported £400k-per-week wage demands having seemingly been a stumbling block for an extension even before those economic restrictions were put in place.
With his future up in the air, a potential new signing has emerged who could well fill his shoes more than adequately – Barcelona’s 23-year-old centre-back, Ronald Araujo.
What’s the story?
As per Catalunya Radio, the Blues are one of the sides believed to be interested in pursuing a deal for the Uruguayan – alongside Premier League rivals Liverpool – with the player having failed to agree terms regarding a new contract with the La Liga side, with his current deal set to expire in just over 12 months’ time.
Since making his debut for the Catalan giants during the 2019/20 campaign, the seven-cap international has gone on to become a real mainstay in the club’s defensive ranks, albeit with that rapid rise seemingly not adequately rewarded by his current side who are unwilling to meet the player’s wage demands, having already offered to ‘triple’ his current £35k-per-week salary.
According to the report, the cash-strapped side will ‘not improve their offer’, opening up the possibility of a move being agreed elsewhere, although one possible obstacle in any switch to join Tuchel’s stellar squad could well be the club’s current financial predicament.
Ready-made Rudiger replacement
It would of course be a significant blow to see the one-time Stuttgart man depart the club, although in Araujo the Blues may well have pinpointed the ideal player to fill the hefty void left behind by the more senior man.
Like Rudiger, the Rivera-born defender – who is also believed to be on Manchester United’s radar – offers a threat in both boxes, having chipped in with four La Liga goals this season, including in the recent 4-0 thrashing of rivals Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
At the other end of the pitch, the Blaugrana star also averages 1.3 tackles per game and one interception per game in the Spanish top-flight, a record better than the current Blues man, who averages just 1.2 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per game in the Premier League, as per SofaScore.
Both aggressive, front foot defenders; like Rudiger – who Rio Ferdinand described last year as an “animal” – Araujo has also been praised for his physical prowess as well as his ability on the ball, with international colleague Facundo Pellistri labelling him as a “beast” for his impressive displays of late for both club and country.
Comfortable as both a central defender and at right-back – where he lined up in that devastating El Clasico win last week – the £36m-rated starlet will surely be an ideal fit in Tuchel’s preferred back three system, although it remains to be seen if he can replicate the current Chelsea regular’s glorious, marauding runs forward from defence.