The German international made his first Premier League start of the season on Saturday lunchtime in the absence of Thiago Silva

Chelsea conceded 54 goals in the Premier League last season. It was the highest figure for any team in the top half, and it perfectly encapsulated why Frank Lampard’s side was only able to squeeze into the top-four and not challenge beyond that.

These same problems persisted at the start of this season. Chelsea conceded nine goals in their first five league games, including six in 3-3 draws with West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, respectively.

However, while the initial signs were unquestionably concerning, once Thiago Silva and Edouard Mendy settled into their respective roles with their new team, improvements were marked and immediate.

In the five league games Silva has started, Chelsea have kept three clean sheets, their only clean sheets of the campaign prior to this weekend.

Silva also started two of the three Champions League group-stage games, keeping clean sheets in both, and played 61 minutes in a 6-0 win over Barnsley in the Carabao Cup, another occasion when the Blues recorded a clean sheet.

As such, with Silva absent against Newcastle United on Saturday, it was always going to be interesting to see how Chelsea’s defence adapted. And the clean sheet that Chelsea earned should encourage Lampard and his team.

In Silva’s place, Lampard inserted Antonio Rudiger. It was his first appearance in the Premier League all season and only the second time he and Kurt Zouma had started alongside one another, the other being a 4-0 win versus FC Krasnodar in the Champions League.

For the most part, this new-look centre-half partnership was largely untroubled. Newcastle were exceptionally conservative in their approach. Rarely did they even look to venture beyond the halfway line with much vigour or purpose.

Nevertheless, Chelsea were able to dictate play and remain entirely well-structured, in large part because of the calm, composing play of Rudiger and Zouma.

Both maintained a pass completion rate above 90%, with Zouma up at 97%, while they both totalled more than 110 touches, the two-most frequent touchers of the ball on the field – Reece James was the only other player to have more than 100 touches.

Newcastle did put pressure on Chelsea in the opening stages with a series of set-pieces, all of which were dealt with relatively well. Allan Saint-Maximin was also a threat at times, though James handled him well for the most part.

Beyond brief moments on the counter-attack, Chelsea sailed through the match almost entirely unscathed. N’Golo Kante, naturally, was superb, sweeping up any loose balls and stemming any potential attacks, while Zouma and Rudiger’s shared athleticism, speed, and reading of the game meant that Newcastle, without the more mobile Callum Wilson to lead the line, could not exploit the space in the Chelsea half.

Of the pair, Rudiger was the more conservative passer. He also played one disastrous pass straight past Ben Chilwell and out of play. Yet, Newcastle had no interest in pressing Chelsea and it was easy for Rudiger and co. to play out from the back, something that has been an issue of his in previous outings.

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Most pertinently for Rudiger, there were very few mistakes. The German international has always been a capable defender, but his overall efficacy and value are wholly undermined by his propensity to make silly errors.

On this showing, there were just two awkward moments to speak of, both of which were quickly nullified by free-kicks awarded to Chelsea.

Antonio Rudiger (left) with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy during Chelsea’s clash with Newcastle United at St James’ Park. (Image: Lindsey Parnaby – Pool/Getty Images) (Image: Lindsey Parnaby – Pool/Getty Images)

During Newcastle’s best period of the match at 1-0 down, Isaac Hayden skied over from a matter of yards out. The chance stemmed from Chelsea’s inability to win the ball in midfield and Rudiger’s poor clearance that rebounded of Hayden and then fell to the Newcastle midfielder.

Hayden was adjudged to have handled the ball and a Chelsea free-kick was awarded, but that was more luck than any judgement in Rudiger’s panicked clearance.

Then, later in the second half, Rudiger was dragged into midfield by Miguel Almiron. Completely out of position, the Paraguayan stepped over the ball and let it run beyond him. The ball evaded Rudiger and left Joelinton with a one-on-one with Zouma.

Joelinton was then flagged for offside, presumably for when the initial pass was played, and he could not take advantage of the situation, but it was a dangerous opening that left Zouma exposed. Rudiger’s eagerness to step into midfield and win the ball could have been a critical error.

Beyond these two instances, however, the pair were in-sync. Take Andy Carroll’s chance in the 93rd minute.

Zouma stepped up to pressure the ball in midfield. Rudiger moved across to cover Carroll’s run in behind the Frenchman, but realising that he could play offside, he stepped up before the pass was played.

Unfortunately for the pair, Emerson, who replaced Chilwell several minutes earlier, stood too deep, behind both, subsequently playing Carroll onside. Rudiger then recovered well, forced him wide, and allowed Mendy to make the save.

While Emerson undermined their work, they defended the situation perfectly and it displayed the connection of their collective defending. They worked in tandem with one another, which is the greatest compliment that can be paid to a centre-back partnership.

What Rudiger’s performance – and the clean sheet more generally – means for the remainder of the season is difficult to say. Silva’s leadership and communication are vital to the Chelsea defence, and his partnership with Zouma has been one of the chief positives of the Blues’ start to the season.

Nevertheless, that Rudiger proved himself capable of standing in when required, not upsetting the confidence and balance that Lampard has instilled in recent weeks, is only encouraging for a team that is beginning to come together.