Ahead of today’s game at St James’ Park we caught up with our skipper Cesar Azpilicueta to discuss our recent record away to Newcastle, find out what training has been like during the international break and hear why Azpi can’t keep quiet during games…
‘Well done Reece!’
‘Jon, Jon, it was never a foul!’
Even when he’s not on the pitch, Cesar Azpilicueta is playing his part. In the socially-distanced area behind Frank Lampard where our coaching staff and substitutes are located on matchday, nobody is as loud as our skipper. When he has not been selected so far this season, his cries of support, advice - and the occasional protestation at the man in the middle! - can be heard far and wide in echoey stadiums up and down the country.
‘It’s the way I live!’ Azpi laughs.
‘In training, on the pitch, on the bench, it doesn’t change. I am very passionate and I want to get involved, that is natural. That’s the way I feel.
‘Obviously I would like to play but whatever happens I want to help. I get really into the game. I can’t control that!’
Only the performances of Reece James have kept Azpilicueta out of the team more than he is accustomed to, but with the hectic schedule this season and his renowned versatility, he will no doubt accrue plenty more playing time in the months ahead.
Azpilicueta’s 400th Chelsea game is not far away now, and rest and recovery has been vital in helping the defender amass so many appearances over the years. As one of the few players not on international duty in the last 10 days, he explains how he ensures that period benefits him in the long term.
‘They are different weeks, but we try to get a bit of rest and do more work individually,’ he says.
‘When you have two weeks between games it’s a moment to do some work that can help you through that busy schedule when you play every three days and it’s difficult to do proper training.
‘So this period allows you to do more aerobic work, strength work, and running. You can fit gym work in as well.
‘It’s also always good to have moments when you mix with the young boys from the Academy,’ adds Azpilicueta. To bolster numbers, a number of youth players joined the skipper, Marcos Alonso, Willy Caballero and Fikayo Tomori in training recently.
‘We can have a closer look at them, and it’s a good chance for them to improve and taste first team training. It’s important for their development and is a way to express themselves. They can feel confident to play their game.
‘Obviously it’s the Academy boys’ objective to reach the first team, and any opportunity is good to show you are improving and you can reach the top.’
Azpilicueta is certainly refreshed, but like his manager Frank Lampard he recognises that won’t necessarily be the case for all his team-mates who have returned from different corners of the globe. The early kick-off today has made preparations harder, he says, but what he is not concerned about is our recent record at St James’ Park. We have lost five of our last seven league trips there.
‘Records are there to be broken,’ he stresses.
‘Sometimes you play against a team where you have the best record and you are always at risk of it ending. It doesn’t guarantee you anything. Some games there we didn’t deserve to lose and that’s football, but in my eight seasons I have only won once in Newcastle.
‘It’s a place we have to be fully focused. Last season we lost in the last minute because we weren’t fully concentrated until the very end. But we are in very good form. We are full of confidence so we don’t need to be worried about this stat.’
‘Newcastle are a team who always try to play their game, they are solid and they want to exploit counter-attacks and set-plays.
‘If we want to get the three points there we have to be good in those areas, be strong defensively. But in the last few games we have been good at that so we shouldn’t be overly worried by this.
‘We have to aware of their strengths, be confident we can cope with them, and then our qualities up front, with the way we are winning the ball and creating chances, are clearly there.’
Whether he is selected or not today, our captain will make sure he's in the thick of the action.