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Chelsea FC: Azpilicueta rhymes with…Defense

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 Cesar Azpilicueta
Cesar Azpilicueta

According to the old saying in sports: “defense wins titles”. Although the Barclay’s Premier League (BPL) is known for its free scoring matches producing 4-4, 5-0, 6-0, and 7-0 results and the rampant scoring team of Manchester City is the most feared opponent for any manager in the Premier League right now, that old saying remains true even in Britain.

How so? at this moment Manchester City has a goal difference of 42, thanks to a 5-1 win against Tottenham yesterday, the “citizens” moved to the top of the table, yet all Chelsea need to do, to win the title is to have a solid defense and re-master the art of win by 1-0 -Mourinho’s bread and butter- including in their remaining trip to the Etihad.

Mourinho as clever as always, knows it: defense ultimately wins. Hence, the departure of the talented but defensively lazy Mata. And for those thinking letting go of Mata could backfire, maybe but not this season since Chelsea already met with Manchester United both times for the BPL. Furthermore, defense is the reason the only Spaniard that has left is Mata.

The other two: Torres and Azpilicueta, were able to adapt to Mourinho’s strict defensive demands, specially Azpilicueta. The growth of the Spanish Fullback this season is self evident. Accustomed to be a starting player under his compatriot Benitez, Azpilicueta spent the beginning of the season in the bench as the returning Mourinho stuck with the players he knew from his previous stint as a Chelsea manager. The Portuguese placed his confidence on Ashley Cole on the left and Ivanovic on right side of the defense. However, as fate and aging process would have it, Cole suffered an injury to his 33 year old body, and the Chelsea manager had no option but to place Azpilicueta “out of position” on the left flank.

Mourinho probably knew he was good enough, but I bet he did not expect Azpilicueta to flourish. Cesar has not only shown he can handle the position but has proven that he is way, way, way better than the current version of Cole. Having both played almost the same amount of BPL matches so far, Cole (12) and Azpilicueta (11) the difference in their statistics and game form speak volumes.

First, Cesar was man of the match against no other than Arsenal while making Walcott vanish for most of the game. Also, The Spaniard has made 20 more successful tackles, 40 more clearances, and has twice as many opposition shots blocked and delivered crosses himself than Cole. In other words, he is twice the defender Cole is plus being twice as better delivering crosses to the his teammates.

Still, such growth in Azpilicueta’s level is not only visible when comparing him to a ten years older fullback (Cole) but also if we examine his stats against the previous season. In that exercise, he has better numbers in every aspect of this game to almost double the amount of production. So, if anybody has taken Mourinho’s tough love and improved himself is Cesar. He has become a truly excellent defender, all the more impressive if we take into account he is playing on the opposite side.

Moving forward there should be no question that Azpilicueta is the first of Chelsea’s starting fullbacks, and since Ivanovic plays better than Cole on the right flank, it should be the latter the one warming up the bench.

PS: Of course Ashley Cole remains a little better attacking wise than Cesar, but that is obvious if you factor in that Cole has always been an attacking minded fullback plus with Cole’s age he is starting the natural metamorphosis into winger/midfielder with little defensive capabilities/duties.