Chelsea's new defensive leader: How Axel Disasi is channeling spirit of John Terry and Toni Rudiger to shine

Axel Disasi is becoming Chelsea’s new leader at the back.

In the absence of Thiago Silva, the 25-year-old defender has stepped up and earned plaudits for a sensational display away at Manchester City on Saturday.

His 16 blocks were the most made by a Chelsea player in a Premier League match in eight years.

Chelsea spent large parts of the game under siege at the Etihad but Disasi won all four of his aerial duels and made three crucial blocks.

Rodri scored a late equaliser to earn City a 1-1 draw but Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher hailed Disasi after what he described as “a John Terry performance”.

“It was backs against the wall throwing yourself in front of things, every time the ball comes in you're like a magnet,” said Carragher.

“Talking about Chelsea, that was a John Terry performance and I can't give any higher praise than that.

“I can't remember a better defensive performance this season, certainly from a central defender.”

Those watching Chelsea more closely will already have noticed how important the £38.6million summer signing has been this season.

No one has played more than his 2,845 minutes in all competitions this season. His performances have been steady, even in moments where others have struggled, and he has improved markedly in the three games leading into to the Carabao Cup Final.

Away at Aston Villa, he partnered Benoit Badiashle in a dominant display as he rekindled his partnership with his former Monaco team-mate.

The outstanding 3-1 away win at Villa Park relieved pressure on Mauricio Pochettino and his squad.

Thiago Silva’s wife, Belle, had called for “change” after the 4-2 defeat to Wolves just days earlier, and Pochettino dropped her husband for performance-related reasons. Unfortunately, Badiashile suffered a groin injury towards the end of the FA Cup win. Silva then suffered the same injury in the 3-1 away win at Crystal Palace, giving Levi Colwill a chance to start against City.

Leader: Disasi is proving a huge part of this new-look Chelsea team (AFP via Getty Images)
Leader: Disasi is proving a huge part of this new-look Chelsea team (AFP via Getty Images)

As with Badiashile, the left-footed Colwill has worked well with the ever-present right-sided centre-back Disasi, allowing Chelsea to play higher up the pitch.

In dropping Silva, Chelsea have started to find a better balance in midfield as Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo have less ground to cover when defending, with a quicker back four now able to push higher up.

Chelsea still lack experience but having a 39-year-old at the back was also creating tactical problems in their 4-2-3-1 system.

Disasi may not have Silva's gravitas, but his personality is appreciated by supporters and players alike.

His dive into the away crowd after the late win at Palace and celebration after clearing an in-swinging Phil Foden cross to a waiting Erling Haaland were described as “Rudiger-like” by some supporters.

The aggression and eccentricity of Antonio Rudiger has been missed since he joined Real Madrid in 2022 but Disasi has some of his attributes.

“Everyone saw when Axel made a clearance in the first half and celebrated it like a goal that helped to push everyone and gave everyone motivation,” goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic said on Saturday.

Petrovic then lauded Disasi’s block shortly after, adding: “It was a difficult ball [to save] because it deflected in front of me but Axel again did a good job because he didn’t slide and [if he didn’t block it] maybe Haaland would have scored in the far post, and I did my job.

“I think we were organised and played very well. It is very good for confidence ahead of the final and the rest of the season.”

Disasi may only have joined last summer due to a serious Wesley Fofana knee injury, but he has become a crucial part of the team and will be critical to Chelsea’s chances against Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday.