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Chelsea's Spanish Armada

La Liga has become the latest European league to resume action and to mark the return of football in Spain here’s a look at the history of players born in that country at Chelsea.

Spain returned to the stadiums behind closed doors on Thursday evening, as Sevilla defeated Real Betis 2-0 in the Seville derby.

While links between Chelsea and that city are few and far between, there have been plenty of players from elsewhere in Spain who have represented the Blues, even before our current Spanish contingent of Marcos Alonso, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Cesar Azpilicueta and Pedro arrived.

The first Spaniard to represent Chelsea turned up at Stamford Bridge with an impressive haul of achievements to his name and was part of the growing continental presence here in 1998. Albert Ferrer had won just about everything going during his time with hometown team Barcelona, after coming through the ranks to spend eight years in their all-conquering ‘Dream Team’. He left with five league titles and two Spanish Cup triumphs to his name, in addition to winner’s medals from the European Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup.

He picked up more silverware in England, as the man affectionately known as ‘Chapi’ became something of a cult hero at the Bridge. From right-back he was an important part of the side which won the FA Cup in 2000, although he missed the final itself through injury, and qualified for the Champions League for the first time. In fact, his only goal for the Blues came against Hertha Berlin in our debut Champions League campaign.

His two immediate successors as Chelsea’s Spanish representatives didn’t arrive with quite the same fanfare and list of previous achievements, both spending just a single season in west London. The first, Quique De Lucas, was our only signing of the summer window in 2002, during a spell of financial belt tightening, and actually shared a pitch with Ferrer during the following campaign, but was never really more than a bit-part player.

However, while Asier Del Horno also left after a single season with Chelsea, he did help us to retain the Premier League title for the first time in 2005/06. The left-back started 25 of our matches in that competition and scored in a crowd-pleasing 2-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane, but is rather harshly better remembered for being sent off in our Champions League defeat to Barcelona.

At the start of the next decade, Spain had become the dominant team on the international scene with back-to-back European Championship and World Cup wins, and players from that country were in high demand.

As a result, three Spaniards joined Chelsea in 2011 and the trio were all part of the squad which won the Champions League for the first time the next year. Juan Mata was probably the most prominent of them, providing the Blues’ creative spark in the middle of the park. He was unlucky to see his penalty saved by Manuel Neuer in the shoot-out against Bayern in Munich, but his contribution to that success, and others, was rightly recognised as he was named Chelsea Player of the Year in both his full seasons here.

Fernando Torres, who arrived around six months before Mata, never managed to hit the heights he had reached earlier in his career with Liverpool and the Spanish national team, but still played a significant role in that triumph, coming off the bench in the final. Indeed, many of his best performances in a Blues shirt came in continental competition, as he scored the opener in our 2013 Europa League final victory and his nine European goals that season were a club record until they was surpassed by Olivier Giroud last year.

The third member of the trio was Oriol Romeu. Injuries and fierce competition for places meant his impact on the team was far more limited, although he did make three appearances in our triumphant 2011/12 Champions League campaign and was an unused substitute in the final.

In the same year that Mata and Torres’ Chelsea careers came to an end, 2014, our next Spanish star arrived. Much like Ferrer, Cesc Fabregas was a Catalan local who had won La Liga with Barcelona, as well as possessing plenty of Premier League experience from a long and successful spell with Arsenal.

As with Mata, he was signed to become the Chelsea side’s playmaker and he certainly lived up to that role, reaching 100 Premier League assists quicker than any other player and becoming the first to set up 10 Premier League goals in six different seasons during his time here. That is on top of helping us win two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and League Cup.

The most recent of Chelsea’s Spanish players, outside of the current squad, is Alvaro Morata. The striker arrived from Real Madrid in the summer of 2017 and enjoyed a promising start to his Premier League career, scoring six times in as many appearances in that competition, including a hat-trick against Stoke.

However, he never really settled in west London and, after getting the winner against Manchester United, the goals started to dry up in the second half of the season.

Halfway through his second campaign, he returned to Madrid, this time with Atletico, where he briefly played alongside another player on this list, and Morata’s boyhood hero, Torres.

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