In the latest instalment of our Flashback series, Football Transfer Tavern take a look back at a certain moment in a club’s history, to see what conclusions can be drawn or lessons learnt.
Chelsea may be enjoying life with a rejuvenated squad under a new head coach with Frank Lampard, but despite the rise to prominence of youth stars Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, Cesar Azpilicueta is still able to hold vital importance to proceedings at Stamford Bridge.
The Spanish defender had shared the captaincy with Gary Cahill since Blues legend John Terry was allowed to leave as a free agent after lifting the Premier League trophy in 2016/17, and now has the honour all to himself after the West London outfit took the same decision with the former Bolton Wanderers man.
Chelsea do not just have a leader in Azpilicueta, though. They have a rock that carries the load from byline to byline, and one that almost saved their blushes against Liverpool in the 27th minute when he bundled the ball home, only for the Video Assistant Referee to call play back, with Mount being offside in the build-up.
Azpilicueta’s goal would have cancelled out Trent Alexander-Arnold’s early opener when the right-back smashed home a curling effort following a set-piece routine after referee Michael Oliver stopped play on the edge of the Blues’ box when Andreas Christensen clumsily fouled Sadio Mane.
Christensen was arguably at fault for the second Reds goal, too, as he failed to pick up Roberto Firmino from another set-piece routine, who headed home the would-be decisive goal.
Had the VAR not intervened in Azpilicueta’s goal, or not been used in the Premier League, the Spaniard signed for an initial £6.5million in 2012 (BBC) would have had his latest moment saving the Blues, having been a key man at the Bridge over the last few years.
Things have not always been easy for Azpilicueta, having arrived in West London from Olympique de Marseille as a natural right-back, only to reinvent himself the following campaign on the left-hand side of Jose Mourinho’s backline (TransferMarkt).
Marcos Alonso’s arrival two seasons later should have allowed Azpilicueta to return to his natural position on the right, but it was not to be, as the Pamplona-born defender would prove to be even more flexible with his talent and converted to a centre-half in a three-man backline – a move which returned instant results.
Chelsea followed defeat at Arsenal in September 2016 by changing their system away to Hull City, a move which saw the Blues win 13 Premier League games on the bounce, and keep ten clean sheets (TransferMarkt).
The arrival of Maurizio Sarri saw Azpilicueta finally get the chance to reinvent his game back to its natural state from 2012, as the Italian ditched the system favoured by his compatriot Antonio Conte and focused his side around a 4-3-3.
With it, and the armband in each of the 38 league games, Azpilicueta offered one goal and six assists, and has continued in his vital place under Lampard, where he again features heavily, having played every minute of every Premier League game this season.
Indeed, the 30-year-old needs to keep his defensive side as close to the top, as well, as he watches his younger centre-half partners struggle to carry the weight they are now tasked with, with the team having conceded 13 goals already in the Premier League this season.
Chelsea fans, is it time for Azpilicueta to reinvent himself again, or for Lampard to look elsewhere? Let us know in the comments below…
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