The return of European football means the Blues have a busy September schedule ahead, starting with tomorrow’s trip to Leicester. Cesar Azpilicueta has been considering what we need to do to challenge on different fronts this season, and he has also given some more detail on his own role in the team.
An ever-present in our league success last term and yet to miss a minute this, the defender joined Chelsea the summer after we lifted the European Cup. He is relishing the chance to play in that competition again after a year without, but he is also intent on remained focused on the bread and butter of domestic action.
‘The biggest challenge is obviously to retain the title,’ Azpilicueta said. ‘We performed to a very high level last season, but we know that it’s a fiercely competitive league and that it’s always even tougher the year after you’ve been crowned champions.
‘We’re working hard day in, day out to rise to that challenge. We took a lot of people by surprise last season. They didn’t have us down as contenders, but we showed what we’re made of by winning the Premier League title and reaching the FA Cup final.
‘Now we’ve got new challenges ahead of us.’
It is nearly a year ago now that Azpilicueta and his team-mates were presented with a new challenge by Antonio Conte: to shift to a 3-4-3 formation. For the Spaniard that meant moving from left-back to the right side of a three-man defence. The results for him and the team were immediately positive.
‘I’m enjoying it a lot. For me, it was a new position, a new challenge. I had no doubts about it from the very first moment the coach told me he wanted me to play there. I thought I was capable of doing it and I’m always trying to improve and take in advice to keep on developing as a player.
‘It’s important to have that flexibility and be ready for it, because the coach can choose between different systems depending on our opponents. So it’s important to have confidence in order to be able to swap systems.
‘In a three-man defence you get more in touch with the ball and you participate more when distributing it. The way you attack is different too, because when you play as a full-back you do so in wide areas. You can cross the ball from closer to the box.’
After tomorrow’s game in the East Midlands, when Azpilicueta will be hoping to assist Alvaro Morata as he did in our win against Everton before the international break, we host Qarabag in the Champions League. It marks our return to continental action and the 28-year-old can’t wait.
‘It’s the most prestigious competition in Europe, and every player wants to be part of it. I really enjoy playing in these games.
‘After not being in the competition last year, it was important that we got back into it and we did that at the first time of asking. Now we’re relishing the challenge of making an impression on our return to the competition.
‘We’ll go step by step. I think our first step should be winning our group. If you take a look at the teams that have qualified, all of them can make life hard for you. That should encourage us to give it our all.
‘Winning the competition would mean everything,’ concludes Azpilicueta. ‘I think everyone always dreams of it and, of course, whenever we’re in this competition, we dream of doing just that.’
Tickets are now sold out for our Champions League opener against Qarabag next week but some matchday packages remain as well as seat-only options for £65 which are on sale now.