Coming into the 2013-14 season, many Chelsea FC fans had assumed that Cesar Azpilicueta would be a lock at right-back in the Blues’ starting eleven. Given his performances a year ago under the management of Rafa Benitez, it would have been a safe bet to think so. So far, Jose Mourinho has made it clear that Branislav Ivanovic – who played center-back for much of last season – would be his first choice starter on the right side of defense. Continuously, Cesar found himself left out of Mourinho’s match-day sides and was consigned to sit the bench with his compatriot, Juan Mata.
Recently, though, Azpilicueta has found himself in more and more starting 11s under Mourinho, while putting in the types of performances that Chelsea fans are used to, but this time at left-back. Initially, Cesar was put there during Chelsea’s Champions League away leg against FC Schalke to fill a gap left by the injured Ashely Cole. Ashley’s sidelining became a bit more permanent after an abysmal performance away at Newcastle United and was subsequently dropped for Cesar ever since.
So far this season, Azpilicueta has kept his pass accuracy at 88 percent, while winning an average of 68 percent of all duels he has engaged in, both in the air and on the ground. Cole betters him with a pass accuracy of 90 percent, but falls short, winning only 51 percent of all duels. He has already proven that he is a good crosser and has pace to be a threat going forward. His propensity to work hard on both sides of the ball appeals to Mourinho, the same one who left out the superb Mata because of defensive deficiency, and has already put his name on the score sheet with a nice hustle play against Arsenal FC in the Capital One Cup. Cesar still has room to improve, specifically at positioning, but at 24-years-old, he has plenty of time to grow as a player.
Ashley is still a great defender and will likely stay as England’s first choice left-back up until, and including, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But at 33-years-old and with his contract set to expire in seven months, and given Chelsea’s recent attitude towards older players, Cesar could be in a position to make the spot his to lose. This would greatly improve his own chances of starting for the World Cup and European Cup champions, Spain.
As Chelsea set to make the trip across London to face West Ham United at Upton Park, it will be interesting to see if Azpilicueta, once again, features at left-back for the Blues come match day.