César Azpilicueta – From Obscurity To The Top

Updated: May 12, 2014

Signed in the tail-end of the 2012-13 summer transfer window, Cesar Azpilicueta was not a household name when he brought his talents to London from the beautiful city of Marseille. But just like the ‘other’ player Chelsea nabbed from the French team years ago, Azpilicueta is proving out to be a stellar signing – worth every penny and more. Such has been the level of his performances that he has kept out Ashley Cole, anointed the World’s best Left-Back by vox populi not long ago, from starting for Chelsea. While some might rightly argue that that happened only because Cole has aged somewhat badly, but for a right-back to dislodge the legend with the (now shaved) amazing beard, he ought to be special. And special he is.

Azpilicueta, whom we’ll just call Dave, emerged from the CA Osasuna youth system as a midfielder. However, when an injury crisis hit the first team in the 2007-08 season, he filled in as a right back. Then, Dave was not to be dislodged from there. It was in the summer window of 2010 that Marseille nabbed him for €7 milion. He began his career in France ominously with an own goal, against Spartak in the Champions League Group Stage. Fortunately for us, he wasn’t determined to win the Golden Boot for own goals like Kop hero Martin Skrtel is. He had been in Marseille for two years by the time Chelsea came calling, with the talk of his brilliant performances having finally crossed the Channel to reach Michael Emenalo.

Azpi and Benitez

The not-so-loved Spaniard gave the absolutely-loved Spaniard his first crack at Chelsea

Since the wonderful Paulo Ferreira aged out of his prime, Chelsea had been struggling to get a suitable replacement. Even in the window Dave arrived, Chelsea were heavily linked to Juventus’ Chilean right back Mauricio Isla and Borussia Dortmund’s Polish right back Łukasz Piszczek. However that transfer window saw Dave arrive for a bargain 7M Euros. While opportunities were hard to come by in his initial days, he became a sureshot starter when Ivanovic was moved to center-back to compensate for John Terry’s injury problems under Rafa Benitez. From there on, there was no looking back for Dave.

Azpi and Jose

“A team of 11 Azpilicuetas will win me the Champions League”

However, when this season began, the new old manager Jose Mourinho was expected to entrust the Serbian tank with the right back position and so he did. However, he was always full of praise for Dave regarding the hard work he put in while training or his brilliant attitude, but the ‘minutes played’ counter hardly ticked. A window opened up for Dave when both Ash and Bertrand were injured, leaving the left-back slot vacant. He grabbed the chance with both hands and didn’t let go of it. Being played out of position, he was unfazed. He looked so much at home that even the usually Chelsea-critical commentator Tony Gale remarked during the home leg against Galatasaray that he “just might be the league’s best full-back”.

Azpilicueta is not an attacking full-back, as the general misconception is. He, in fact, guards his flank better than Ivanovic when the opposition winger demands his attention. With Ivanovic providing solidarity down the right-flank, Dave combines high defensive work with brilliant interplay with the winger up ahead of him to get in to brilliant positions. He is one of the most energetic full-backs around and is always actively involved in pressing the opposition wingers high up the pitch.

Azpi Europa

He is also not wasteful when he retrieves the ball. Possessing vastly underrated passing and crossing abilities as well as vision, Dave is well-equipped to start off a counter attack. In fact, he’s much like Cole and Ivan rolled into one. The attacking flair of the former fused with the defensive strength of the latter. A good comparison to Dave’s style of play would be Phillip Lahm, who was equally unfazed on either flank, always putting in his best shift. Dave also brings in a Ferreira-like attitude into the squad; willing to play when picked, not complaining when not, which is a desirable quality in professional footballers.

“Azpilicueta, this is the kind of player I like a lot. I think a team with 11 Azpilicuetas would probably win the competition [Champions League] because football is not just about the pure talent, football is also about character and personality and Azpilicueta has all the traces of that winning personality.”


-Jose Mourinho



Azpi and Cole

A healthy competition

Overview :



Having started the season as first-choice, Cole went on to accumulate 1,116 minutes with 12 starts before Dave dislodged him. Dave finished the season having clocked 2,235 minutes, which consisted of 25 League starts. Jose was compelled to put Ash back into the starting lineup once the late season injuries began to pile up. Ash did not disappoint, putting an impeccable shift whenever called into action, especially away at Anfield. He finished the season on a high, having played 1,296 minutes.

Defending :

Azpi-Def Cole-Def

Altogether, Azpilicueta has put an impressive defensive performance. With a ground 50-50’s win % of 61%, he narrowly edges ahead of Cole, who’s at 59%. Dave is highly underrated in the air, where he managed to win several long balls against Drogba in the Champions League knock-out game against Galatasaray. One particular moment stands out from that game where Azpilicueta won an aerial duel against Drogba, got on his stride and slid in a wonderful through ball to start off a counter. His aerial prowess gets reflected in the stats as well, as Azpilicueta boasts of a 58% aerial win rate against Cole’s 32%.

Success in ground tackles show an interesting story with both having similar %s. However, Azpilicueta is proven to be the better tackler as he maintains the ‘slightly’ higher % despite committing to a tackle every 24 minutes against Cole’s rate of a tackle every 37 minutes. Being a more proactive defender, Azpilicueta is quick to take up intelligent positions, blocking passing lanes and making interceptions. With the stats showing Azpilicueta to have made 53 interceptions against Cole’s 19, his reputation is done no harm. However, said proactiveness comes back to bite him as he has been dribbled past by opposition wingers at a much higher rate than Cole.

Passing :

Azpi-Pass Cole-Pass

Both Azpi and Cole are good passers of the ball. But while Cole prefers the safe pass to central midfield or his fellow defenders to recycle possession, Azpilicueta likes to slide the pass over to the forward players, sometimes even going for an ambitious cross-field diagonal to the winger on the other side. Hence, Azpilicueta possesses a vastly superior forward pass % while Cole maintains a higher accuracy.

Possession :



Turnovers are a good measure of a full-backs efficiency, and Azpilicueta is a mixed bag when it comes to turnovers. While his tireless pressing yields the ball at a better rate than Cole, his frequent up-field forays also lead him to lose the possession much more often than Cole.

Creativity :

Azpi-Creativity Cole-Creativity

Full-backs are an important outlet of a team’s chances. They put in stunning crosses or slide in scintillating through balls to set chances up, and if your team has ‘proper, functional’ strikers, unlike Chelsea, they rack up several assists. This was well manifested by Cole’s performances in the 2009-10 Double winning season, where he was a potent attacking threat given the aerial strength of Drogba. However, when the creativity stats of Azpilicueta are piled against those of Cole this season, it’s Cole who comes out on top, perhaps unsurprisingly.


He rises above all others

He rises above all others

While several might remember Azpilicueta for the infamous slip against Sunderland that cost Chelsea a penalty and subsequently the match (and maybe the League title), he has been the most consistent player alongside Nemanja Matic in what has been a topsy turvy season. Though, Cole’s general awesomeness was missed this season until he made the late string of appearances, Dave ensured that, on the pitch, Chelsea still had the League’s finest left back. While he would be shifted back to the right if Chelsea finally purchase a left back, he has made a strong statement that he can more than fill in if a vacancy props up on the other flank.

Ashley Cole has been a legend, in every manner. Ashley was immense whenever he was called on. His tears after playing ‘possibly’ his last home game against Norwich City caused a heartbreak for millions of fans worldwide who absolutely love him. While Mourinho has said that he’d like to see him stay, it still is the club’s decision. And given that the club is building for the many years to come, it won’t be surprising if Cole is let go of in the club’s best interest, given his massive wages.


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