The past three weeks have provided Chelsea followers with a first extended look at Cesar Azpilicueta in action.
The Spaniard has started three out of the last four matches and immediately prior to that run, he was brought on during the second half of the league match against Manchester United when the red cards appeared.
His performances at right-back caught the eye of chelseafc.com columnist Pat Nevin who this week wrote: ‘Azpilicueta’s play so far has been the model of controlled consistency that a new player should show.
‘Yes he does get up the field now and again giving the odd glimpse of his impressive pace, but so far he has concentrated on his defending when he has had his opportunities. Against Liverpool I thought he was spot on from start to finish, rarely if ever being beaten but more importantly showing very good decision-making skills.
‘This is an often underrated ability in the modern full-back, many just burst forward at every opportunity leaving huge gaps behind them and also sometimes running into space, killing it for their team mates. He seemed to pick and choose very well against Liverpool.’
That was the opinion of a man who spent five years at Chelsea exploiting weaknesses in the opposition full-backs at every opportunity. Speaking to the official Chelsea website this week, Azpilicueta agrees with that analysis of his initial appearances for the club.
‘I think that full-back is a position where you need to be perfect in defence at first,’ states the 23-year-old, ‘and then you must help the strikers and the wingers to give another option to the team.
‘It is true that the easiest is to go forward because everyone prefers to go forward and it is more beautiful to attack than defend, but the most important is to give balance – to know when you can go and when you cannot go.
‘It is difficult sometimes,’ he acknowledges. ‘I made some mistakes when I started playing this position because it is difficult to know when and when not to, and with experience you start to learn when you must go. Also with the help of coaching staff you see when it is possible.’
Azpilicueta confirms his first aim has been to demonstrate the defensive side of his game is of high quality but that hasn’t been at the exclusion of forays forward, and he has shown himself to be the type of full-back keen to swing in crosses when the opportunity arises. That is often not the modern Spanish way but for this player nurtured in his home town club before moving to France, crossing has long been part of his game.
‘A defender is a defender first and you must give security to the team,’ he says,’ but after that I like to go forward and to give the opportunities to the team.
‘When I started in Osasuna we were a team that did many crosses and had strikers who were good with their head [Walter Pandiani, formerly of Aston Villa was one].
‘After that in Marseille it was a little bit like this. I know I can do it better but I like to go forward and to make good crosses.’
With David Luiz likely to return after illness to the squad for tomorrow’s visit to West Brom, there may be another reshuffling of the defence, but whether he plays at the Hawthorns or not, Azpilicueta feels that his Chelsea career is now properly underway.
‘I am happy and I am starting to play. Everybody wants to play but we know the competition for places in team and the most important thing is the team.
‘I am part of this team and the most important thing also is the results. Now we are not getting the best results in the Premier League so we want to come back to winning every game.’