Signed from Marseille in August 2012, weeks after representing Spain in the London Olympics, Cesar Azpilicueta soon emerged as a first-choice right-back. His ability to suppress opposition wingers immediately impressed, along with his dependability in possession and increasing willingness to join the team’s attacks.
A strong beginning to life at Stamford Bridge earned Azpilicueta – affectionately known as ‘Dave’ by team-mates and supporters alike – a first call-up to the full Spanish national team in early 2013, and he ended his first campaign in Chelsea blue with 48 appearances.
He has since proven capable of playing left-back and as one of a back-three defence, and ended his second season at the club by winning the Chelsea Players' Player of the Year award. He won his first Premier League title in 2015.
Cesar Azpilicueta made his 250th Chelsea appearance in the away game at West Ham United in December 2017
Born on 28 August 1989 in Pamplona, Navarre, Azpilicueta began his career at the academy of his hometown club, Osasuna. Having come through the ranks in Pamplona, Azpilicueta was handed his La Liga debut on 8 April 2007 against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
The following season, with Osasuna depleted by injuries, the youngster featured regularly and cemented his place in the team at right-back with a string of impressive displays, while the 2008/09 campaign saw him miss only two games.
In June 2010, Azpilicueta made the switch from Spain to France, signing a four-year deal with Marseille. The youngster, however, endured a difficult opening to his career at the club suffering a knee injury which ruled him out for his first season.
Following the disappointment of the previous campaign, the 2011/12 season - with both the European Championships and Olympics on the horizon - was always going to be a big one for the young Spaniard. He flourished, performing consistently well and catching the eye as Marseille reached the Champions League quarter-finals, eventually eliminated by beaten finalists Bayern Munich.
Azpilicueta made his debut for the club in a 6-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanders at Stamford Bridge in the Capital One Cup, playing the full 90 minutes. His first Premier League appearance came shortly after when he replaced Branislav Ivanovic midway through the second half of a 4-1 win against Norwich City, while his first league start came in the 1-1 draw with Swansea at the Liberty Stadium.
As the season progressed, the young defender went from strength to strength and established himself as a regular in the side at right-back, with Ivanovic playing more often than not in the centre of defence. Such was Azpilicueta's influence that, as the games piled up, and Benitez continued to rotate the side, he was one of the few players seldom rested.
He played an integral role as the Blues secured a third-place Premier League finish and completed the full 90 minutes in the Europa League final win over Benfica in Amsterdam, bringing his first season at the club to a triumphant finish.
The Spaniard then scored his first Chelsea goal from the penalty spot in a 4-3 post-season friendly defeat to Manchester City in the US.
With new manager Jose Mourinho preferring Ivanovic at right-back, Azpilicueta was limited to substitute cameos early in the campaign, though on his second start, against Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, he notched his first competitive goal for the Blues in a 2-0 win at the Emirates (below).
With Ashley Cole injured the opportunity arose for Azpilicueta to start in the unfamiliar position of left-back in an away win at Schalke in late October. A fine performance in Germany heralded a run in the team for the Spaniard on the left side of the defence; even when Cole was deemed fit to play again.
That run at left-back continued until the end of a wonderful season for the Spaniard. When he was required to revert to right-back, for matches against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, he made the transition seamlessly. He had formed a key part of the meanest defence in the country, which conceded just 27 league goals in 38 games, in turn making him close to indispensable in Jose Mourinho’s improving side.
Azpilicueta was rewarded for his performances when he won the Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year award, and he was also placed in the final four nominees for the Chelsea Player of the Year award. Team-mates and fans alike had taken note of the likeable defender’s outstanding on-field ability.
Azpilicueta continued where he left off the previous campaign with a string of fine performances at left-back. Despite the arrival of Filipe Luis he maintained his position in the side and showed his tenacity to its full to set up Diego Costa’s winner in a satisfying away success at Liverpool in the November. The Spaniard helped keep a clean sheet as the Blues vanquished Spurs in the Capital One Cup final and by the end of the Premier League-winning campaign he had made 29 appearances in that competition. It was his first league title.
Azpilicueta scored his first league goal for Chelsea and his second overall with the winner away at West Brom in August 2015. That was the team's first win of the season and he continued to be Jose Mourinho's primary choice at left-back for the rest of the manager's time in charge, with the odd game at right-back when new signing Baba Rahman was given chances on the left.
He found the net again against West Brom in January although this time the team were denied all the points by a late equaliser. There then followed a significant spell back in his traditional position on the right flank when Branislav Ivanovic was asked to play centre-back in the absence of others, and by the end of the campaign Azpilicueta had played more minutes than anyone in the squad.
Azpilicueta scored an absolute stunner as the Blues came back from 2-0 down to win a League Cup tie at Leicester but it was the return to his defensive best, as the right-sided member of the back-three selected by Antonio Conte at the start of October, that was the highlight of his early months with the new boss. An impressive run of clean sheets and club-record breaking sequence of wins were recorded. In one of those games, at Sunderland in December 2016, he made his 200th Chelsea appearance and that month he also signed a new contract committing himself to the club until June 2020.
By the end of his outstanding 2016/17 campaign, Azpilicueta had played every minute of every league game, only the fourth outfield player do so for a Premier League winning team. It was from his ball across goal that Michy Batshuayi scored at West Brom to seal the title. The following game, at home to Watford, he netted his one league goal of the season.
At international level, he has represented Spain since earning a call-up to the Under-16s in 2005, and was part of the Under-19 side which won the European Championships back in 2007, as well as the Under-21s who tasted success in the same competition in 2011. After impressing during a sustained run in the side, Azpilicueta earned his first senior call-up for Spain for the friendly against Uruguay in February 2013, and played the full 90 minutes in a 3-1 win.
He also featured for his national side at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, playing the full 90 minutes in an emphatic win against Tahiti and coming on at half-time in the final defeat to the host nation.
He was named alongside Chelsea team-mate Fernando Torres in Vicente Del Bosque’s World Cup squad for Brazil, where he started the opening two matches at right-back, and was again in the final selection for Euro 2016. At the tournament he made one appearance, coming on late in a group-stage win over Turkey.
The defender was also selected for the 2018 World Cup squad although he was an unused sub throughout the campaign.