Sublime passing display shows why Cesar Azpilicueta is one of Europe’s most underrated defenders

He may be amid his sixth season with Chelsea, a tenure that has produced two Premier League titles and a Europa League title, but it still feels as if Cesar Azpilicueta doesn’t always get the credit he deserves outside of west London.

While it’s becoming more and more accepted that the Spain international may well be up there with the best defensive players in Europe, having found success as a right-back, a left-back and a centre-half with the Blues, some aspects of his game are still a little overlooked – most specifically, the quality he offers in possession.

Of course, Azpilicueta has never been a slouch on the ball, having started out as a forward-thinking right-back. But the move to central defence has truly highlighted not only Azpilicueta’s consistent technical ability – finishing last season with the most passes to his name of any Premier League player – but also his creativity and vision.

That was particularly evident in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Brighton on Boxing Day, when the former Marseille man whipped in a delicious cross to supply star striker Alvaro Morata for the sixth time already this season.

But the assist was very much the tip of the ice-berg; he created five chances throughout the ninety minutes, a return only bettered by Cesc Fabregas, while completing the same number of passes as his playmaking compatriot.

No doubt, the 5 foot 10 defender won’t get the same freedom on the ball in every game; Brighton finished up with just 33% possession and hardly threatened the home side while succumbing to a 2-0 defeat.

But most important is the fact Azpilicueta knew how to take advantage of such time and space in possession – rather than shifting the ball sideways or onto a more offensive-minded team-mate, his creative passing game was a decisive factor in Chelsea picking up three points.