Rudiger’s message to Mbappe… and now for Haaland

Rudiger’s message to Mbappe… and now for Haaland

Cristiano-Messi, Messi-Cristiano, the pairing that has dominated European football for the last 15 years is in the final throes of what seemed like a never-ending period.

Now that both are enjoying football in lesser leagues outside Europe, others will have to pick up the slack. That is where Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland come in, two of the players (there are more: Bellingham, Griezmann, Vini, Julin lvarez, Kane…) who want to fill that void with goals and football.

And as life would have it, both will have to pass the definitive test of Antonio Rudiger, who is having a season worthy of applause.

The first to see Rudiger was Kylian Mbappe. The PSG striker, the absolute leader of the French national team, took to the Groupama Stadium pitch to face a difficult test for his national team.

They hosted Germany, which saw the return of Toni Kroos to the Mannschaft, and he did so in a position where he would have to try to get past the Madrid centre-back, one of the most complicated missions at present.

And it wasn’t his best day on a pitch, as the German defence completely cancelled the PSG star.

The final numbers say it all: 4 out of 9 dribbles (44%), 1 out of 6 accurate shots (17%), 27 out of 38 accurate passes (71%), 5 out of 11 ground duels (45%), and the feeling of constant discomfort.

Because that is what Antonio Rudiger does to his opponents. The match also gave away a ‘clash’ between the two after a tackle from the German, who threw himself to the ground with everything he had to cut off the danger of the Frenchman.

He got up, applauded everyone… and ended up talking to Mbappe as he returned to his position and Thuram complained.

On to the next giant

Who’s next, Rudiger might ask, after his performance in the friendly against France and Germany. On the horizon is the second giant of the football world.

On 9 April, Haaland will take to the Santiago Bernabu pitch to face a player who knows him inside out… and who has already experienced the German’s defensive trickery first-hand.

“I was absolutely calm. I know how far I can go if I’m 100 percent physically and mentally. It created a circumstance that I love. In the days before, the media wondered if I would be able to defend Haaland,” Rudiger confessed after the first leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final.

The centre-back stuck to the City striker throughout the game and didn’t let him breathe… and even played psychological games. The Norwegian’s stats spoke for themselves: he touched the ball 21 times, made 9 out of 12 passes, shot twice between the posts and lost the ball five times.

“There were a lot of doubts and if I’m honest, I love that atmosphere: I shine more when people doubt me,” said the centre-back… although this year nobody doubts him.

And after the visit of the first ‘giant’, Antonio shared on his social networks some photographs for his followers in which he can be seen leaving Mbappe with no options in attack in what some have interpreted as a message to a player who, in the future, could be his team-mate.

A stifling defence that Mbappe himself has experienced: “Good night for us. A clean sheet,” the German tweeted.

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