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Cesar Azpilicueta: The Underappreciated Captain

Cesar Azpilicueta has been a mainstay in the Chelsea side for the past few years. Upon his arrival in 2012, after a quiet start to this...

Cesar Azpilicueta has been a mainstay in the Chelsea side for the past few years. Upon his arrival in 2012, after a quiet start to this Chelsea career, he was able to displace Chelsea legend Ashley Cole as the first choice left-back under Jose Mourinho. It was under Mourinho that Cesar truly thrived, he had an incredible season so much so that Mourinho famously quoted that he could win the Champions League with 11 Azpilicuetas in the team. Having played a variety of positions under different managers during his Chelsea career he has displayed incredible versatility, sportsmanship and professionalism. After taking over as Chelsea caption from Gary Cahill he has had huge expectations of him on and off the pitch. Having huge shoes to fill and with predecessors like Lampard, Terry etc there were huge expectations of the Chelsea captain. Fortunately, he has some of the best qualities of Terry. Scoring from set-pieces, leadership, not afraid to tackle in the box, a crucial block, you name it all. Cesar’s Chelsea career has been an interesting one, playing in various formations, numerous systems and positions under different managers he has been somewhat of a staple presence in the Chelsea backline.

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The 2019/2020 season has been an incredibly interesting season from the Chelsea captain’s point of view as he has faced competition from Chelsea youth product Reece James. His performances this season have gone underappreciated as his style of play is different compared to James. One of Chelsea’s greatest achievements this season is the introduction of youth into the team and balancing the team with senior players. Chelsea fans have taken to Reece James and have even gone as far as asking for him to replace Azpilicueta at Right Back. Although this is a fair request considering Reece’s rise this season, are Chelsea fans overlooking Azpilicueta’s abilities? 

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Cesar is one of last few old school defenders who play with utmost discipline and professionalism showcased with 0 yellow & red cards in the Premier League this season. The last of a generation who tuck in their shirts and focus solely only on the game and nothing else. His contributions this season have gone unnoticed by most people, his leadership skills, his last-ditch tackling, his commitment to the team and club is second to none and is an ideal role model for the younger generation. 

Many a time this season Cesar has bailed Chelsea out with important tackles and proper defensive displays, his best trait being his consistency and match fitness. With zero errors leading to goals this season its clear how intelligent and focused Cesar's game is. Cesar’s work rate is one of the best the club has at the moment and it would be a huge loss to the club if he were to depart this summer transfer window. He puts in constant 7/10 displays that is crucial to the team. When he’s on the pitch he looks the most comfortable defender in the Chelsea backline which has been pretty shaky for the majority of the season. 

One of the last of the old guard, Azpilicueta has been underrated for most of the season, mainly due to his inability to contribute in the attack which Reece James brings to the team. With 2 goals and 3 assists it may seem that Azpilicueta is doing alright, but with a crossing accuracy of 23% with only 83 crosses attempted compared to a staggering 313 by TAA for Liverpool it's been one of the biggest drawbacks of Cesar's game. Although his attacking stats have been mediocre this season, his solidity in defence and the confidence he instils in his fellow defenders is one of the best at Chelsea at the current moment. Even Reece had a shocker against Bayern Munich in the CL but Azpilicueta has rarely dropped such a performance.

Frank Lampard has experimented with a variety of systems this season and Azpilicueta has been able to play in every one of them, as a right-back, right centre back and as a left-back whenever necessary, he is an incredible asset to this Chelsea team who are looking to build for a bright future. Regardless of his abilities, he has had a quiet season in terms of what expectations were on him, he has popped up when Chelsea needed him but he hasn’t put in too many match-winning performances. In his 30’s, it's very evident that age is catching up to him and he is getting slower and unable to keep up with the pace of the Premier League. Players like Zaha, Martial, and Sterling can skip past him with ease due to their immense pace and that isn’t helping Azpilicueta’s case at Chelsea. Does the manager have to choose between experience and quality when deciding who his starting right-back should be? If so, it is one hell of a dilemma, with some extreme fans wanting Azpilicueta to leave the club and some insisting he stay to help build Reece James’s career and retire at Chelsea. 

Two very strong arguments in this scenario have been thrown all over social media. The decision ultimately lies in Lampard’s hands who has shown that he is not afraid to use the younger players and also drop any senior player who aren't performing, with Kepa, Giroud, Pedro and Willian all facing the axe at Chelsea at some point may point towards the fact that Azpilicueta is a part of Lampard’s plans and may continue to be in the coming seasons. What will this mean for Reece James? Will he stay or leave elsewhere for first-team football? His new contract extension may suggest his future is at Chelsea. This indicates that Azpilicueta is planning on playing a bit-part role in the Chelsea team from here onwards, particularly as Chelsea are looking for a new left-back. This season has seen the best and worst of Azpilicueta, with his amazing performances in the mini-revival at Chelsea and with the odd average performance. Chelsea fans might be getting bored with watching Azpilicueta’s style of play given that it is defensive and more repetitive. They are also eager to watch Reece James play regularly and whip in those David Beckham-esque crosses for the striker.

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A player once praised by both Conte and Mourinho is no ordinary player, but maybe the system Frank Lampard wants to implement may not be the best suited for Azpilicueta who carries a “never give up” attitude with a cool and composed mentality which is required for any successful captain. Azpilicueta may have shown his adaptability and versatility previously but his challenge now lies in convincing the man in charge that he is, in fact, the best man for the job. Whatever happens to Cesar’s position and contention in this Chelsea side, he will always be in the hearts of true Chelsea fans who are well aware of his enormous contributions to the club’s success in an era which saw the likes of Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Cech all leave the club within a span of a few years.

Written by - @ajayfranklin10
Edit by - @KristenPulisic