With the return of football not far away now, it’s the skipper up next in our detailed 2019/20 individual player review.

Cesar Azpilicueta was confirmed as our club captain last summer, following the departure of Gary Cahill, and in his eighth season at Stamford Bridge he has been remarkably consistent once again…

Cesar Azpilicueta: 37 appearances, four goals, three assists

‘I played with Azpilicueta and I know him very well. He’s the first player to stand up, which is the reason he’s captain because of that professionalism and attitude, and he’s been an incredible player for the club.’

You can count on one hand the number of times Cesar Azpilicueta’s form has been criticised during his time at Chelsea, and Frank Lampard’s response the only time it has happened this season, following our August draw with Sheffield United, was clear: Azpilicueta’s commitment to improvement means any perceived dip won’t last. It didn’t.

Like every Chelsea manager before him who has had the Spaniard at his disposal, Lampard has made Azpi virtually an ever-present since linking up with his former team-mate again. He has played the full 90 minutes in 26 of our 29 league games to date, was an unused sub in two others, and was withdrawn for the closing stages of our win at Tottenham because of some hamstring pain. He has also started all of our European fixtures, as well as our two most recent in the FA Cup.

Captain fantastic

This has been Azpilicueta’s first season as club captain, although holding the armband is nothing new to him, having done so over 70 times across 2017/18 and 2018/19 as vice-captain.

As a man who knows Chelsea inside out, and who by his own admission ‘always likes to win every single possession game or whatever in training’, Azpilicueta leads by example. Never has that been more important than now, when so many young players have broken through at Chelsea.

Where has Azpilicueta played this season?

On the pitch the 30-year-old has displayed his usual versatility, appearing so far in four different positions as Lampard has mixed up shape and personnel. Beginning the season at right-back, a change in formation meant he was moved to right wing-back for the emphatic win at Wolves that followed the frustrating Sheffield United draw, and kickstarted our season.

After helping us triumph at Molineux, Azpilicueta returned to right-back as we reverted to a four-man defence, and since Reece James’ emergence he has sometimes switched to left-back. More recently he has appeared on the right side of a back three, a position he knows well from the title-winning campaign of 2016/17.

Rather than seeing James as a threat to his spot, Azpilicueta has helped the 20-year-old flourish in his maiden campaign as a senior Chelsea player; he was of particular assistance when James made his Champions League debut at Lille in his only second appearance for us.

‘Reece is a player I have followed and he had an amazing spell at Wigan [on loan],’ Azpilicueta said on the eve of that win. ‘He showed his quality, he is a very strong boy with a good attitude. I will try to help him with whatever he needs.’

Azpilicueta the goal-getter

Coincidentally, Azpilicueta’s first goal of the season came in the epic 4-4 draw with Ajax in which James, a half-time sub, equalised. Azpilicueta’s was a predator’s finish that got it back to 4-2, and shortly after James’s strike the captain thought he’d won it, only for VAR to spot an infringement in the build-up to what would have been a deciding ninth goal.

Azpi scored again in our next Champions League home game, against Lille, with a near-post header. A couple more close-range finishes followed in January, in draws against Brighton and Arsenal, with only late equalisers preventing them deciding the game in our favour.

Four goals in total already make it Azpi’s most profitable season yet in that regard. He also has three assists to his name, most notably teeing up Tammy Abraham’s first Chelsea goal, at Norwich, and Callum Hudson-Odoi’s first Premier League goal, at home to Burnley.

But it is as our captain and a mainstay of an oft-changing defence he has proven so important this season, and will continue to be when football resumes in very different circumstances.

Cesar Azpilicueta's 2019/20 Premier League stats

Their season so far: Marcos Alonso

Their season so far: Cesar Azpilicueta

Their season so far: Kurt Zouma

Cesar Azpilicueta stats

Cesar Azpilicueta Premier League appearances 2019/20

Cesar Azpilicueta has played 27 times in the Premier League for Chelsea so far this season, all starts.

Cesar Azpilicueta Champions League appearances 2019/20

Cesar Azpilicueta has played seven times in the Champions League so far this season, all starts.

Cesar Azpilicueta FA Cup appearances 2019/20

Cesar Azpilicueta has started our last two FA Cup games this season.

Cesar Azpilicueta Carabao Cup appearances 2019/20

Cesar Azpilicueta did not play in the Carabao Cup this season.

Cesar Azpilicueta goals 2019/20

Cesar Azpilicueta has scored four goals for Chelsea this season, his best return since joining the club in 2012. He netted against Brighton and Arsenal in the Premier League in January, and in our Champions League home matches against Ajax and Lille prior to that.