On April 14, Antonio Rudiger limped off before half-time of Chelsea’s clash against Liverpool. The German defender suffered a knee injury and it seemed likely he would be out of action for a prolonged period during the final month of the season.
As a result, the 26-year-old was absent for the Stamford Bridge outfit when they drew with Burnley a week later and could only watch from the sidelines as his side dropped crucial points.
But to the surprise of many Chelsea supporters, Rudiger immediately returned to the starting lineup against Manchester United last weekend.
Rushing him back to action backfired, however, as the German again hobbled off with an injury at Old Trafford, spelling the end of the season for the defender.
Chelsea’s decision to accelerate Rudiger’s recovery process turned out to be a big mistake, ending his season and throwing their defence into disarray at a critical time.
His absence means manager Maurizio Sarri is left with Ethan Ampadu, Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill and David Luiz as his only specialist centre-backs.
However, Ampadu has not made a Premier League appearance all season and Cahill has not featured for the club since November.
Sarri may even have to ask either Cesar Azpilicueta or Marcus Alonson to fill in at centre-back if the club suffers any further injuries or he needs to rotate his squad to cope with fixture congestion.
If Chelsea had been more pragmatic about Rudiger’s return date, it might have been possible to ease him back for the last couple of matches of the season, including a potential Europa League final.
But with the German now facing around 10 weeks out injured, there is no chance the centre-back will play again this campaign and his off-season will also be severely disrupted.
In a bid for short-term success, Chelsea ended up endangering the health of Rudiger and harming their top four hopes by rushing him back into action far too quickly.