Most Chelsea fans can agree that Cesar Azpilicueta is Mr reliable Mr consistent. Signed for under £10million from Marseille in 2012, Azpilicueta has shown how good he is as a defender and that he can also play at left-back and as a centre-half in a back three. However, in recent matches, the 29-year-old looks far from himself and it has been questioned whether or not he is on the decline.
When Frank Lampard returned to Chelsea as head coach, Azpilicueta became the club captain following Gary Cahill’s departure. It showed that he is still one of the first players on the team sheet, but Lampard has reiterated his desire to play youth this season with the club currently suffering from a transfer ban.
With some of Chelsea’s rivals spending heavily on right-backs in recent seasons; Manchester United spending £50 million for Aaron Wan-Bissaka this summer and Manchester City spending a combined £80 million for Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo. With the transfer ban in place, it does mean Lampard has to use what he currently has at the club. In the first few games, it is clear that the Chelsea head coach is trying to implement his style of football he used at Derby County last season.
Lampard’s style of full-back
When the attacking trio of, say, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, and Pedro move infield and help out the lone striker, this gives a lot of room in the width for the full-backs to exploit.
Both full-backs are tasked with creating the overloads down the flanks and because at times they will be left isolated in that part of the pitch, it means that they need to be technically accomplished. They are also required to have great attacking instincts, they have to feel comfortable on the ball as well as be assertive in the final third.
So far in the first few games of the season, Emerson, in particular, is showing signs of the kind of full-back Frank Lampard wants this season. On the other hand, Cesar Azpilicueta is currently struggling. The full-backs do have a secondary role to play and due to the high positioning that Lampard expects both full-backs to be playing, they are required to help keep the team’s shape in the final third. The way of doing this is to pin back the opposition’s full-backs.
Granted, this is an aggressive style of football to play, but with the right personnel and the right technicians, it can work. As a full-back, they need the outlet for the switch ball if the play is too congested on one side. Also, for Azpilicueta it isn’t his natural game to attack and isn’t the most technically gifted full back out there. The Spanish defender is most effective when he has cover from someone in front of him and is a very good defender, but only when he has the support. This is because, in tighter areas, he can use his exceptional one on one defending ability to an amazing effect.
In Lampard’s system, this won’t be the case during matches as both full-backs are expected to advance high up the pitch and hold their positions in the final third. Again, this doesn’t suit Azpilicueta as he is left exposed high up the pitch and against Leicester City, they constantly attacked Chelsea’s right-hand side where he didn’t record a single tackle in the match.
One out, one first-teamer in
So is Chelsea’s most consistent defender on the decline? With Chelsea loaning out Davide Zappacosta to Roma for a season, this frees up room in the right-back area for Reece James. The Chelsea youngster has the capabilities to thrive in Lampard’s system and the Chelsea head coach would have kept a close eye on his development last season at Wigan Athletic when they came up against each other in the Championship.
Not only is a Reece James a good defender, but he is also a great footballer. Having previously mentioned that as a full back in Lampard’s system, you need to be technically good with the ball at your feet as well as being able to deliver in the attacking phase. With Emerson and the inclusion of James in the Chelsea XI, first of all, the major bonus that they will provide is that the team shape will be a lot better.
One other aspect of adding James at right-back is that he is much better suited to playing this system compared to Azpilicueta as James loves going forward and is exceptional at defending. Going into his attacking ability and how he likes to play is his top-quality crossing ability. This is something that Chelsea struggle and as the years have surpassed, current right-back Azpilicueta delivery from wide areas isn’t good enough.
But, until Reece James returns from injury, Chelsea will have to rely on Azpilicueta for the time being and are hoping his performances improve in the coming games. Frank should take judgment from the Leicester City match and know that if we haven’t got the key technicians available right now, then he should focus more on defensive balance which was non-existent against Leicester. It’s up for debate whether or not Azpilicueta can play in this system, but as Chelsea fans, we have to trust in him until Reece James returns.