The Bet365 Stadium has proved a difficult environment for the Premier League’s top clubs this season, Stoke already earning a home win over Arsenal and a bitter-fought point against Manchester United, but it wasn’t a hurdle in Chelsea’s title defence on Saturday as the Blues bagged an incredibly convincing 4-0 victory.
Summer signing Alvaro Morata inevitably stole the headlines, producing a hat-trick the game after Chelsea confirmed the departure of his centre-forward predecessor, Diego Costa, to former club Atletico Madrid.
But scratch a little deeper and the Spain international’s compatriot Cesar Azpilicueta was the real star of the show, not only playing a pivotal role in a clean sheet away from home as the most experienced member of a relatively unfamiliar Chelsea back three, but also making huge contributions at the other end with four chances created – two of which Morata converted.
Also weighing in with the third-most touches of the ball of any Chelsea player, it was a performance that highlighted how underrated the 28-year-old, who wore the captain’s armband on Saturday, is in the grand scheme of European football.
Capable of playing any role in a back three (including the wing-back slots) and a back four, impeccable defensively yet also comfortable and sometimes even creative on the ball, is there a team in the world that couldn’t find room for Azpilicueta in their defence?