Chelsea will face Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday in Amsterdam as they look to continue their winning run. If they are to do so, they will need Cesar Azpilicueta to be at the top of his game against Dusan Tadic.
The Blues travel to the Netherlands to face last season’s semi-finalists in Europe’s premier club competition. Having won one and lost one of their first two matches in this campaign’s edition, they could do with a result against de Godenzonen.
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With Ross Barkley and N’Golo Kante unlikely to feature as they both didn’t train with the first team on Tuesday, Mateo Kovacic is likely to start in central midfield. However, it is Azpilicueta, the club captain, who cost the club £6.5m (BBC Sport) in 2012, who could hold the key to the match. He will need to stop Dusan Tadic to give his side the best chance of victory.
When Serbia international Tadic left Southampton last summer for €11.4m (£9.7m, talkSPORT), few would have expected to hear about him too often in the future. However, he has been rejuvenated since moving to the Eredivisie, and was one of the most important players during that European run in the previous campaign.
As Ajax beat Real Madrid 4-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu, the 30-year-old become one of the few players to receive a perfect 10 rating from French outlet L’Equipe, who are notoriously harsh. Consequently, he has been nominated for the Ballon d’Or award, and he fully deserves the recognition.
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This season, he has once again hit the ground running. In 17 appearances, he has already bagged nine strikes and made ten assists and, if anything, he looks even more deadly. Compared to his 2.6 chances created per match in the Eredivisie in the previous campaign, he now has 4.2, whilst his dribbling numbers are up as well.
He has actually played more games at centre-forward this term, but he was prolific at left-wing last season and has started the last two league matches there. Even when he has played up top, like against Valencia, he has often drifted out to the left anyway as the heatmap below shows.
As such, he should be facing off against 30-year-old Azpilicueta, and the former Marseille man will have his work cut out. He has received criticism for his performances recently, and will need to improve dramatically. Still, he is a strong defender, and has made an impressive 2.3 tackles per game in the Premier League, whilst he has been dribbled past just 0.9 times per match. He has bags of experience at the very top, and should know how to handle a player of Tadic’s quality.
With the former Saints man so essential to his team’s attacking play, Chelsea will be well on their way to a result if they can curtail his influence. Should he be allowed too much freedom, though, it could be a difficult night for the Blues, just like it was for Real last year.