When César Azpilicueta joined Chelsea for £7m back in August 2012, quite a few Chelsea fans were left scratching their heads.
Who was he? Do we need him?
These were just a few questions that passed through the stands at Stamford Bridge when the Spaniard was unveiled.
But today, César Azpilicueta is a Chelsea stalwart and his battling performances have really struck accord with the Blues fans.
Just getting into the first team was a battle. He arrived as a right-back and struggled to get in ahead of Branislav Ivanovic but injuries made it slightly easier for him to settle in during his debut season.
On the left, Ashley Cole was one of the best full-backs in the world.
But when Jose Mourinho walked back into the club he decided that Cole was maybe not as disciplined enough defensively or getting on a bit and decided to drop the England international. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be many ready-made replacements in the squad at the time.
So the Portuguese boss decided to put Azpilicueta in as his makeshift left-back. Now maybe Jose thought that Cole would come back in after a few games out with a renewed vigour or maybe he thought that he’d go out in January and bring in a costly left-sided defender.
Obviously Cesar had different ideas and it was the Spaniard who grasped the chance to impress and impress he did. He adapted well on the left and would offer a steeliness that Mourinho clearly wanted from his full-backs.
He also had pace and a determination not to give up and keep fighting for the ball. It’s always impressive when a player moves position and settles in straightaway.
In the next two seasons Azpilicueta would keep that left-back spot and he’d consistently be one of his side’s better performances.
This season Antonio Conte arrived on the King’s Road and started life struggling to find his best starting line-up and ideal formation.
After losing 3-0 to London rivals Arsenal at the Emirates, Conte knew things had to change. So the Italian decided to go to a 3-4-3 formation and the side never looked back as they won game after game and reached the Premier League summit. They now have an eight point lead at the top!
At the back, Conte has decided to have Cesar as the right-sided member of the back three.
He offers pace and discipline that helps if David Luiz decides to go missing (in fairness to the Brazilian he hasn’t done that too often) or if a player beats wing-back Victor Moses then he’ll eagerly get across to meet the challenge.
Antonio would have been rubbing his hands at the thought of working with the Spanish international. Azpilicueta has a tremendous work ethic and battles like a warrior, much like Conte did as a player. Look at all the teams Conte has managed and they all have a core of gutsy, strong willed battlers and on-field leaders.
Cesar Azpilicueta’s impressive form was rewarded last month with a new deal. It gave his manager a chance to talk about his defender:
“He’s impressed me a lot with his commitment, his work-rate, his ability to play also in different roles. He’s a good professional and I’m pleased for him, and above all the club and the fans. A really good player has signed.”
The twenty-seven year old has once again moved to a new position, seamlessly fitted in and made that role his own. He has been an ever present in the top flight so far this term and must be one of the first names on the team-sheet.
After that iffy start to the season, Chelsea don’t just lead the rest of the pack they also have the best defensive record. That shows you how well the back three have clicked and Cesar has managed to become integral to that being the case.
Don’t get me wrong, the likes of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic playing in midfield helps but the back three have been tremendous. No one is questioning the fact that John Terry and Kurt Zouma are sitting on the sidelines and that shows you how good David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Azpilicueta have been.
On average Cesar manages to make over two challenges and over two interceptions per game. He’s also usually fair in the tackle and hardly picks up a card.
This week in an interview with Jamie Carragher, Chelsea legend Frank Lampard stated:
‘Don’t forget [Cesar] Azpilicueta. He’s been brilliant. Costa and Hazard get the limelight but he’s basically a right back and a centre half. He is tailor-made for that role. He’s probably been player of the season.’
I read that statement and couldn’t really argue against it.
Defenders rarely get the same praise as the creative maestros or the goalscorers but a good defensive performer can be a joy to watch.
It’s all about concentration, getting the tackle in, settling the nerves and leading by example. All qualities that Cesar Azpilicueta has shown throughout this campaign.
You then add in the fact that the Spanish international defender has once again moved position and remained one to the club’s top stars.
He’s a player that always gives you 100% and that’s why I think he deserves all the credit coming his way!
Posted on January 28th, 2017 by scott
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