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Antonio Rudiger gives Frank Lampard a Chelsea dilemma to decide Thiago Silva’s defensive partner

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The German was a surprise starter against Fulham but took his chance with Kurt Zouma relegated to the bench

The German was a surprise starter against Fulham but took his chance with Kurt Zouma relegated to the bench

Frank Lampard made a bold call in his starting eleven selection as Chelsea squeezed past Fulham 1-0 in the west London derby.

Kurt Zouma is one of the manager’s most trusted lieutenants having started against Morecambe in the FA Cup as the manager went for a strong side to get through to the fourth round, which paid off.

But the French centre half was surprisingly named on the bench as Lampard went with the older heads for the game at Craven Cottage as Chelsea won for just the second time in the Premier League in their last seven games.

Antonio Rudiger started for just the third time in the Premier League all season. He’s made three appearances and all of them have been starts but it has been Zouma who has held down the fort alongside Thiago Silva.

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The Brazilian is an automatic starter, one of only maybe two or three currently in Lampard’s squad. You argue that match-winner Mason Mount is, goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, Ben Chillwell at left back and Silva but that’s maybe it in terms of those who will play every game.

Before Saturday night it appeared that Zouma would have been on that list as well but Lampard said pre-match that while it wasn’t a slight on Zouma, he felt that he needed to make a change.

The manager said: “Some of our results recently have been indifferent and that’s not a direct thing on Kurt, but we felt there were some changes to be made.

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“To lean more on what Toni is doing in terms of his training, he has come into games and played well.

“He’s a personality in the group and at the moment, we need personalities to try and get a result to try and kickstart us again.

“Again, nothing bad on Kurt, but felt like a change was needed.

There were a couple of moments early on where the German defender looked rusty and short of match practice despite playing in the FA Cup victory over Fulham six days previously.

But, eventually, when you’re playing alongside a world class defender in Thiago Silva you’ll get it right and Rudiger did.

There was one specific moment in the second half where Ademola Lookman flung in a cross which Silva cleared. The ball was recycled to Fulham substitute Joe Bryan who launched another cross in and there was Rudiger to head clear.

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It is exactly what you want to see from your centre back pairing.

Lampard didn’t say post-match whether his selection for the Fulham match had one eye on Tuesday’s visit to Leicester City. The Blues defence will come up against a sterner test in Jamie Vardy, Harvey Barnes and James Maddison, with Youri Tielemans running late from midfield.

Rudiger had a 95% pass success rate against Fulham, won both of his offensive aerial duels, all of his defensive ones and had a 100% success rate with his tackles.

Lampard took a gamble with someone who has barely played this season and it paid off as Chelsea secured a clean sheet.

Now the manager has to make a decision whether it is still Zouma who is Silva’s number one partner or if Rudiger, who has long been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge this month, has forced himself into the reckoning for more minutes.

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