We begin our Champions League campaign against Sevilla on Tuesday evening and Cesar Azpilicueta is confident Chelsea can make a good start against difficult opponents.
The Spanish side visit Stamford Bridge for our opening group stage fixture of 2020/21 and our skipper knows all about what to expect from our opponents, having played under their manager Julen Lopetegui for the Spain national team, but has complete faith in our own ability at this level.
‘Since I arrived here in 2012 I always had the belief and the confidence that we could fight for everything,’ said Azpilicueta. ‘So this year it’s true that we didn’t start the way we wanted in the Premier League and the Carabao Cup but the Champions League starts, it’s completely a new challenge and we have to be ready for it because we are going to be playing against a strong team.
‘We saw Sevilla beat Wolves and Manchester United in the last campaign in the Europa League, so we have seen that they have the level to compete against teams in the Premier League, and they are a team that want to control the game offensively and defensively.
‘When they don’t have the ball they want to get it back and attack quickly and also they try to put their attacking players in dangerous situations. Last season in La Liga they finished in the Champions League places and they won the Europa League, so they had a very good season and they have started this season in the same way. We expect a tough game but we are Chelsea, we are at home, we are playing our first game in the Champions League, so we have to be ready to compete.’
Our own European campaign last season came to an end in the Champions League last 16, at the hands of eventual winners Bayern Munich, but our captain also believes that experience will help make us stronger this time around, especially in the case of the many young players who were competing in the Champions League for the first time in 2019/20.
‘When you get experience obviously it is better, because last season we had players who had never tasted Champions League football. It was new for some of them, and we had to compete against difficult teams.
‘The last experience we had in the Champions League was against Bayern Munich, they were the best in Europe last season, so we could see where we want to be if we want to challenge with the best. We could see home and away how they played, the intensity, concentration, focus on every single ball. That’s what it takes to be competing at the highest level and hopefully from that moment we could see, we could learn.
‘You are never happy to lose so we have the chance tomorrow to show what we have improved since last season in the Champions League.’
However, one of the areas Azpilicueta wants to see improvement in is our ability to defend as a team and be more ruthless in closing out games when we need to.
‘What is very clear is that if we want to improve and fight for everything we have to improve the defensive side and obviously this is a problem that we have to fix collectively and individually, because when you concede so many goals, one day you can get away with it and you can score four goals but you cannot rely on every single game to score four goals.
‘I think it’s key moving forward and we have to start getting this consistency of winning games, of not conceding goals.
‘When you have the solidity defensively I think it gives a boost for the whole team. I always see football as a collective. When we don’t score goals I try to see even as a defender, how we can put our dangerous players, attacking players, in better positions, because sometimes they don’t get the service that they should get. And as a defender I feel bad when you concede as many goals, but sometimes we have to improve our personal mistakes that have been an issue and also collectively sometimes we have to take decisions and say “we all defend together right now”.
‘Through the season you’re not going to be playing beautiful football every single day and winning 4-0, even if it’s what we wish. When we can’t, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter your position, we must do this to win the game because football is about results.’