Evergreen skipper Cesar Azpilicueta is the focus of the latest in our series of player-by-player season reviews...
In his second season as Chelsea captain, Azpilicueta showed exactly why he has become such a central figure for the club, on and off the pitch.
Despite featuring less regularly than he is used to during the first half of the season, his commitment and leadership were never in doubt, and on his return to the starting line-up the defender combined all the experience of his 31 years with the athleticism of someone a decade younger.
The continued emergence of Reece James meant Azpilicueta was sharing right-back duties with his younger team-mate during the early stages of the season. James seemed to be the preferred choice in the first few games, but the Spaniard started his fair share of matches and even when he didn't, provided an important option from the bench to help us hold a lead.
His influence was most obvious when introduced at half-time against West Bromwich Albion, with the Blues 3-0 down. He showed all his experience and leadership qualities in our vastly improved second-half performance, as well as providing the assist for Mason Mount’s goal which sparked our comeback to salvage a 3-3 draw.
Cesar Azpilicueta made his 400th Chelsea appearance at home to Manchester City, becoming only the second overseas player to reach that landmark, after Petr Cech.Milestone
By the end of October, James had established himself in the right-back spot, limiting Azpilicueta’s playing time, particularly in the Premier League. There was no questioning his dedication, though, with manager and team-mates alike repeatedly highlighting his continued selfless influence in the squad, especially when helping James and the other younger members.
With the arrival of Thomas Tuchel as head coach in January, and his initial preference for experience while getting to know his new players, Azpilicueta was back in the starting line-up and showed how important he would be at both ends of the pitch in our new 3-4-3 system, when he charged forward from centre-back to score the first goal of the German’s reign, netting the opener in the 2-0 win over Burnley at the end of January.
His ability to slot seamlessly into the side in the back three or as a wing-back proved invaluable to Tuchel, who moved Azpilicueta, James and Callum Hudson-Odoi between roles depending on the opponents and specific demands of the match. Regardless of the position he occupied, our skipper was a near ever-present for Tuchel, missing just three games in all competitions after the manager’s arrival.
The fitness levels required for that consistency made a mockery of the suggestion footballers start to decline once they reach their 30s. In fact, some of Azpilicueta’s performances in the crucial matches at the end of 2020/21 were arguably his best yet in a Chelsea shirt, leading by example with dominant Champions League displays in the semi-final against Real Madrid and final victory over Manchester City, further underlining his credentials as a player who shines in the big games.
‘He’s a fantastic captain and a fantastic sportsman. He is everything Chelsea means in my point of view – he’s humble, he’s a fighter, he thinks constantly about winning and he does everything to be in shape every three days.’
— Thomas Tuchel
Cesar Azpilicueta 2020/21 Chelsea stats
Unused sub: 16
Minutes played: 3,717
Cesar Azpilicueta Premier League appearances 2020/21
Cesar Azpilicueta played 26 games in the Premier League for Chelsea this season, coming off the bench for two of them.
Cesar Azpilicueta Champions League appearances 2020/21
Cesar Azpilicueta made 11 appearances in the Champions League this season, all from the start.
Cesar Azpilicueta FA Cup appearances 2020/21
Cesar Azpilicueta played four games in the FA Cup this season, one of them from the bench.
Cesar Azpilicueta Carabao Cup appearances 2020/21
Cesar Azpilicueta played twice in the Carabao Cup this season, both from the start.
Cesar Azpilicueta goals 2020/21
Cesar Azpilicueta scored one goal for Chelsea in 2020/21, in the Premier League.