When considering the very best defenders in the world, Cesar Azpilicueta probably isn’t a name that automatically comes to mind. He’s not a beastly presence like Jerome Boateng or Raphael Varane, and he’s not as offensive-minded as the likes of Dani Carvajal or Dani Alves.
And yet, you’ll struggle to find a defender quite like the 20-cap Spain international, comfortable with and without the ball in so many defensive roles – something that was evident once again on Sunday as Azpilicueta played a pivotal hand in Chelsea beating Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Tellingly of how talented a defender he is technically, no player made more tackles in the 1-0 affair at Stamford Bridge, while Azpilicueta also ranked joint-second and joint-third throughout the Chelsea team for interceptions and aerial duels won respectively.
But the 28-year-old made vital contributions on the ball as well, most particularly his curling cross into the box that set up Alvaro Morata for the deciding moment of the match – leaping and flicking his header far beyond the reach of David De Gea.
Most impressive of all, though, was the fact Azpilicueta switched positions mid-match, starting at centre-half but then moving to right wing-back (two very different roles) when Davide Zappacosta was subbed of during the 65th minute. How many defenders in world football will switch between centre-back and wing-back throughout 2017/18, let alone during the course of a single ninety minutes, and still manage to produce for the team?
It highlights how versatile Azpilicueta is because of such a well-rounded skill set, and why he should be regarded as one of the very best defenders in the world.