There was little to separate Chelsea and Manchester City after a thrilling Premier League encounter on Saturday evening, with Cesar Azpilicueta claiming our recent run of form and results had given the team confidence to go toe-to-toe with the reigning champions on their own turf.
N’Golo Kante’s strike fired Frank Lampard’s young side in front but a pair of City goals before half-time reversed the scoreline and the Blues were unable to score again.
However, the brave display from the visitors in claiming a greater share of possession than Pep Guardiola’s side was a real rarity and prompted the City boss to claim afterwards: ‘They are so good, they are an incredible team. Most teams and young managers have spirit and nothing to lose. Football is becoming like this. Chelsea are playing incredibly well.’
Platitudes without points often fall on deaf ears but Azpilicueta agreed that the team were in a particularly strong run of form, which had encouraged them to take City on at their own game at the Etihad.
‘With the way we have been playing recently, with the confidence and the movements from our attacking and midfield players, we have dominated most of the games we have played and created a lot of chances,’ said the skipper. ‘That’s why we had the confidence that we could match their game.
‘We came into the match after six wins in a row in the Premier League, we were ahead of them in the table so as a team we had the ambition to come here and win. We started the game very well but when you play big games like this against quality teams, you know that small details can make the difference.
‘We arrived often in the last 25 or 30 metres but sometimes we were a bit unlucky and sometimes we didn’t make the right choice so we have to improve in that if we want to go further as a team. We know we are still improving and the way to do that is work hard to try to get the wins in these kind of games.’
Reece James’s arrival on the hour mark meant a switch to left-back for Azpilicueta, a role he has reprised at times under Lampard following previous spells there throughout his career at Stamford Bridge, and versatility is an attribute the captain is happy to utilise if it means helping the team.
‘My characteristic is to play in different positions so I am always ready to help the team wherever the manager thinks that I can do it,’ he continued. ‘This season already I played there against Burnley a bit, in the second half against Ajax and now this game.
‘It’s just about changing sides, focusing straight away and getting the relationship between the players that I have around me.’
The City game was the start of a busy fixture period for the Blues, the first of seven games in 22 days, and attentions now shift to European matters with an important trip to Valencia this midweek. With three teams tied on seven points in Group H, the stakes are high for our visit to the Mestalla, where a victory will guarantee our place in the Champions League last-16.
‘We have a great chance to close the qualification for the next stage so we have to take the game like a final,’ added Azpilicueta. ‘We know we play against a good side because they beat us at the Bridge in the first game so our mindset is to go there and try to win.’