Over the last few weeks, Chelsea have relied on firepower to get themselves over the line and more points on the board, failing to keep a clean sheet in eleven consecutive Premier League outings – hardly the defensive resilience you’d expect from champions in waiting.
So when Antonio Conte’s Blues travelled to Goodison Park to face former charger Romelu Lukaku, who has scored the most goals of any Premier League player this season, some feared the worst – a defeat stemming from a porous defence that would move second-place Tottenham just one point behind the west Londoners in the table.
But Chelsea rose to the occasion and produced an incredibly convincing 3-0 victory in which Lukaku hardly got a sniff at goal – in fact, he managed just two shots on target – and that much of that new-found sturdiness can be traced back to one of the Premier League’s most underrated players in Cesar Azpilicueta.
Throughout his Blues career, the Spain international has excelled as a right-back, a left-back and a centre-half and in the latter position on Sunday, he kept out Lukaku with two tackles, four clearances, three successful aerial duels and a whopping six interceptions – the latter statistic being the best return of any player on the pitch.
Equally impressively, he made big contributions on the ball too, creating one chance from centre-back and finishing the match with the most touches of any Chelsea player – a whopping 81.
The performance against Everton showed how phenomenal a defender Azpilicueta actually is; in terms of technique, positioning and reading of the game, he’s up there with the best in the game, whilst his versatility suggests the 27-year-old would be able to find a role for himself in virtually any side around the world.
Azpilicueta’s abilities deserve a lot more recognition.