The Chelsea captain discusses our incredible defensive form and how the credit for recent shutouts must be shared throughout the team...
Few players have been as influential to our recent upturn in defensive solidity as Cesar Azpilicueta, the skipper having returned to a right-sided role in a back three under Thomas Tuchel. It is a position in which he helped us to a league title four years ago and the change in shape has coincided with a run of just two goals conceded in 10 games.
Our latest clean sheet came at Anfield on Thursday night as Azpilicueta, alongside the imperious Andreas Christensen and Toni Rudiger, repelled the attacking efforts of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane as the Blues won 1-0.
It was our first shutout in the red corner of Merseyside since that famous win in April 2014, in which Azpilicueta also featured, and took us four points clear of the fallen champions with 11 games of the season remaining.
A closer look at our defensive numbers since Tuchel took charge shows we have an expected goals against average of 0.4 per game. Against Liverpool, we made a season-high number of actions to apply pressure on the opposition in possession, most of which came in the middle third as we suffocated the hosts and sprung forward quickly to exploit their high defensive line.
That indicates the collective responsibility to defend from front to back and is why Azpilicueta was so keen to share the praise for our defensive excellence throughout the group.
‘The performance was very good from the whole team,’ he noted. ‘It was a great effort. We had to suffer a bit but we had enough opportunities to win and we were very solid.
‘We defended all together and the strikers did an amazing job with that, which is what you need if you want to get three points at Anfield. When you concede goals, it normally goes to the defenders and when you don’t concede it goes to the defenders as well but we work as a team with our structure.
‘Obviously it is the job of the defenders to defend but we have to highlight the work from everybody and the attacking players did an amazing job. Liverpool ran a lot and had a lot of intensity so if you don’t match them then it’s difficult to win but we did really well.’
The victory moved the Blues back into the Premier League top four ahead of another meeting with Merseyside opposition on Monday night, when Everton are the visitors to Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti’s side are a point behind us with a game in hand, which is why Azpilicueta has warned of the need to stay focused and avoid complacency.
‘We know there are still a lot of games to play,’ added the captain. ‘When you get closer and closer, every game is so important because it’s more difficult to get back if you lose points.
‘We are very happy to beat Liverpool, a rival we are fighting with to get into the top four, and to get a clean sheet again.
‘The team is improving and we’re looking forward to the future but on Monday we have another challenge against Everton so now it is well done for the team but we have to focus only on that.’