Cesar Azpilicueta has been reflecting on his evolving role in the Chelsea dressing room and how his relationship with Frank Lampard has changed in the build-up to this evening’s Premier League meeting with Manchester City.
The Spaniard has also urged the Blues to produce the perfect performance at the Etihad Stadium if they are to secure a positive result against the current league champions.
As the longest-serving member of the squad, Azpilicueta has seen the group dynamic change markedly throughout his seven years of service. When he arrived in London four days before his 23rd birthday, the dressing room was full of big personalities, seasoned professionals and recently crowned European champions.
Over time, the make-up of the group has inevitably evolved and Azpilicueta’s own role has grown in significance, culminating in his appointment as club captain this summer.
‘It’s a different dressing room,’ he admitted. ‘When I arrived in 2012, we had players with more experience who were quite different but football is changing all the time. We now have a younger squad, a lot of players who are being tested in the Premier League and the Champions League for the first time so it’s quite exciting from my side.
‘As club captain, I have more responsibilities and I’m enjoying the role of being captain of this club, with this group of players and staff.’
Azpilicueta and Lampard shared a dressing room for two seasons following the defender’s signing from Marseille but their relationship now as manager and captain bears many similarities to their bond as playing colleagues.
‘This is the first time I’ve had a manager who was a team-mate,’ he continued. ‘We shared a dressing room for two years, fought for trophies together and won the Europa League.
‘Five years later, I’m the captain and he’s the manager, but in the end our relationship is the same – we work together to win games and to win trophies so the ambition and the hunger is the same for us both.’
The Blues take on Pep Guardiola’s side on the back of five Premier League away wins in a row, a run which began after our last visit to Manchester on the opening weekend of the season. Azpilicueta believes the team have found an improved consistency since those opening weeks, which he attributes to impressive firepower in the final third.
‘We needed to find consistency because in the first few league games we were not able to get two wins in a row,’ continued Azpilicueta. ‘Every point is important so to have this consistency where we have played in tough places and showed our quality is very good.
‘It’s important for us also to be solid at the back. We kept a clean sheet in the last game [against Crystal Palace] but this is an area we have to improve for the future. Up front, we have seen how many goals we have scored and how many opportunities we have created because we have a very dynamic team that can create problems at any time.’
Azpilicueta was in the team when we last beat City away three years ago so he knows all about what is required to come away from the Etihad with the points. Against such a strong opponent, defensive discipline and attacking proficiency must combine for the perfect performance.
‘The points gap between us was big last season but we’re above them now and that’s because we deserve to be there so it’s up to us to show our level,’ he added. ‘It’s always a big test to play against the current champions but we have to go there without fear and with confidence. We have to play the perfect game to get a result.
‘We know they’re a dangerous team, they have an amazing squad and they can make changes everywhere but we have to go there with the confidence that we can dominate the game and cause them problems. We need a very good defensive game because Man City are a top team for goals and creating chances so we have to be compact, strong and defend very well together.
‘I’m sure they are thinking about us as well. In our offensive side, if we move the ball quickly then we have dangerous people up front. We have to find the perfect performance but I have confidence we can do it.’
-Read: Pre-match briefing for today's game