This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Cesar Azpilicueta arrived at Stamford Bridge from Marseille in 2012, and while predominantly playing as a full-back throughout his Chelsea career, should he be encouraged to play in a different role for the coming campaign?
Azpilicueta has been a regular since his arrival, starting for both Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte in title-winning campaigns and featuring as a regular under Maurizio Sarri.
He’s played right-back, left-back, and even slotted into a back-three during the Conte’s two-year reign.
However, the right-back position may not be held by the ever-reliable Spaniard this season, as youngster Reece James will be looking to stake a claim for that position himself.
The 19-year-old is yet to feature for Chelsea in pre-season after suffering an ankle injury with England U20s during the summer, but it’s not as bad as first feared and he’ll still be eyeing a breakout campaign as his parent club.
Indeed, James impressed during his loan spell at Wigan Athletic in the Championship last term where he demonstrated his power, pace and skill over the season, earning himself 45 appearances and scoring three goals as well as registering three assists.
Having played his whole Chelsea career with Blues legend John Terry, Frank Lampard will have a real understanding of the importance of a commanding leader at the heart of the defence. Azpilicueta may be his answer to that current missing piece in the side.
David Luiz has played in title-winning sides himself, but his performances haven’t been up to scratch in recent seasons, with his poorest performance coming in his side’s 3-1 defeat at Wembley to rivals Tottenham. Antonio Rudiger looks comfortable in the defence but hasn’t quite shown he’s a world-beater just yet either.
The Spanish defender has the the strength, speed, intelligence and experience to slot into the centre of the defence, which would do two things. Firstly it would allow Chelsea to refresh a backline that can’t be addressed in the transfer market; secondly, it gives James the opportunity to get some game-time in the starting XI and provide a more attacking outlet.
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This change in position wouldn’t be plucked from thin air either, as the Chelsea vice-captain has played two seasons of football at the Bridge in a centre-back role before, only he’s done it on the right of a three-man partnership under Conte.
While it would certainly take some adjusting, Azpilicueta’s impressive defensive Premier League stats (74% tackle success rate with 0 errors leading to goals) suggest he’s more than accomplished in the defensive side of the game to undertake such a huge responsibility.