Chelsea: Cesar Azpilicueta amongst the best in the world
The versatile Spaniard does not usually make the headlines but he is consistently one of the continent’s best performers.
His arrival at Stamford Bridge was typically understated and set the tone for a career which has been a showcase of consistent excellence.
Chelsea’s deal with Marseille for Cesar Azpilicueta went through for a relatively paltry £7 million. The fullback had begun his career at boyhood club Osasuna, where he became an established starter at the age of just 18.
After enjoying three seasons in Pamplona, he joined the French giants but he was cursed with bad luck – rupturing the anterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee, sidelining him for six months, while the club’s financial position worsened and stars began to exit the club.
This context of financial need allowed Chelsea to swoop for the defender in a cut-price deal in August.
A boy called Dave
The move was not a glamorous one, coming just months after the club’s remarkable Champions League title and the arrivals of Eden Hazard and Oscar.
It was not thought that the Spaniard would immediately challenge for a first-team place, with Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole occupying both full-back slots with John Terry and Gary Cahill’s positions also seemingly secured.
“He is a strong running right-back who has pace as well, so I think he is already a complete player,” is how then teammate and compatriot Juan Mata described the defender upon his arrival.
Even his surname proved difficult for many English fans to pronounce (Ath-pill-ee-quay-ta), so many Chelsea fans and teammates christened him simply as ‘Dave’.
A style of play to match his name
It was such a mundane surname, designed almost to be forgettable and this is almost mirrored in Azpilicueta’s style of play.
He is a no-nonsense defender who often executes well-timed tackles, is positionally close to perfect, provides improving leadership qualities and who’s contribution going forward is not insignificant.
He does not provide a direct goal threat but has increasingly become more of an attacking threat, with his early season combination with Alvaro Morata – the fullback would deliver the perfectly timed cross for his compatriot to head home – become a trademark.
In the five-and-a-half years since his arrival at Stamford Bridge, the defender has grown into an increasingly important role in the side.
He played every minute of last season’s title procession and has missed only one league game this time around. Just before the turn of the year, he passed the landmark of 250 club appearances for the West London giants.
Alongside two Premier League titles, the Pamplona-native has also won the Europa League and League Cup trophies at Stamford Bridge.
He is incredibly adaptable – strongest in a right wing-back role, but also comfortable on the left and in the heart of defence – and his positional and tactical understanding allows him to switch with consummate ease.
Azpilicueta often opts to keep things simple; playing short passes to teammates and ensuring his side retain possession whilst also keeping their tactical shape.
His only real weakness is that he provides little aerial threat, but outside of playing centrally this is an issue that rarely manifests itself in-play.
His recent performances against both West Brom and Barcelona were outstanding yet on each occasion his contribution was overshadowed by more attacking teammates – in these cases, Eden Hazard and Willian.
This is somewhat natural for a defender, but with the leadership attributes of John Terry and fullback quality of Ashley Cole, Azpilicueta has shown his contributions should be more widely heralded.
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