Tuchel’s Touch Made Azpilicueta Rejuvenated

A captain of the team is normally an important figure on and off the pitch. If the captain is not in the top 11, it is usually because he is nearing the end of his career. Seeing a captain who often sits on the bench even though he is still at such prime age is certainly surprising. Moreover, if the captain was a player of the caliber as Cesar Azpilicueta.

Under Frank Lampard’s management in 2020/21, Azpilicueta was marginalized from the game plan. As captain, his day-to-day leadership is still needed in the dressing room. But on the field, the former Osasuna must be willing to have his place taken by young Blues talent, Reece James.

The situation only changed when Lampard was sacked and Thomas Tuchel took over. The former Paris Saint-Germain coach once again trusted Azpilicueta at the back. From the start, Tuchel said that the captain’s presence on the pitch was important. Azpilicueta leadership is needed by the coach when the match takes place. He also wanted to involve the captain to revitalize the dim spirit of the squad.

Thus, the captain is required not only to display leadership qualities, but also to be effective in carrying out the role assumed by Tuchel’s scheme. So far, Azpilicueta has been able to fill the captain and center-back roles equally well. The defender with 25 caps for the Spanish national team was installed as a right center-back in Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system. Together with Antonio Ruediger and Andreas Christensen, Azpilicueta has formed a trio of solid defenders who have been the backbone of the Blues in the last two months.

Azpilicueta himself is no stranger to that position. During Antonio Conte’s time, the player number 28 also played a role as a center-right defender. “I feel comfortable [with this position]. With Conte I have played there, “Azpilicueta told El Pais.

In 2016/17, Azpilicueta led the back line of a Premier League winning team. Chelsea have lost only five times during the season and locked in the league trophy with 93 points. Azpilicueta was instrumental in this success and was the only Chelsea player to have played from the start in 38 Premier League matches.

Tuchel is aware of the quality shown by the player in the Antonio Conte era. Returning Azpilicueta to a center-back position is also part of Tuchel’s move to revitalize players who were previously marginalized. Apart from Azpilicueta, the former Dortmund coach also gave opportunities to Marcos Alonso, Christensen and Ruediger. These players also showed an equal performance.

Under Tuchel, Chelsea are unbeaten in 12 matches. This achievement cannot be separated from the increased defensive performance of the Blues. They have conceded just two goals under Tuchel. One Ruediger own goal and one goal from Takumi Minamino (Southampton) in the Premier League.

Chelsea’s dramatic increase in back line can be seen from their expected goals against (xGA) statistics. In the Lampard era, the Blues averaged 1 xGA passes per game. Under Tuchel, this figure drops significantly to 0.4 xGA per game. The statistics above show that it is difficult for opposing teams to make chances in dangerous areas when they face Chelsea. The xGA score is an indicator of the quality of opportunities a team faces. The more solid the defense of a team, the smaller the xGA it faces.

“He [Tuchel] always wants to control the game with [possession] of the ball because we have attacking players who can make the difference. Defensively, we also have to be more solid,” Azpilicueta said. In Chelsea’s solid defense, the center-back trio plays a central role. Azpilicueta has shown good connections with both Ruediger and Christensen. At the back, center-backs on both sides (Azpilicueta and Ruediger) played an active role in pressing opponents who entered the defense third. Meanwhile, Christensen plays the role of the last person who protects Edouard Mendy.

Ruediger and Azpilicueta recorded more tackles (1.62 and 1.93 per game) and press (7.08 and 13.5 per game). Meanwhile, Christensen tends to close the opponent’s attack path with his positioning ability. This is shown by Christensen’s intercept statistics (1.53 per game) and block shots (0.99 per game) that outperformed his two peers.

Azpilicueta (also Ruediger) also played an important role in Chelsea’s build-up. Since the Conte era, Azpilicueta has succeeded in transforming the quality of a full-back into a center-back role. The player born in Pamplona, ​​Spain is good at dribbling the ball and making forward progressions.

Azpilicueta’s passing ability can also be relied on. This 31-year-old player often sends medium passes, namely passes from 14 to 27 meters with an accuracy rate of 91.5%. Azpilicueta is dexterous with his defensive to attacking transition, averaging 4.77 progressive passes per game.

In addition, Azpilicueta frequently overlapped and occupied the right of the final third. He has the potential send a cross from this position. His ability to cross passes is quite good. It is worth remembering that Azpilicueta is the defender with the tenth most assists in the Premier League era with 32 assists.

Chelsea’s first goal in the Tuchel era itself came thanks to Azpilicueta’s overlap. After a draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Chelsea host Burnley on 31 January 2021. Azpilicueta scored the match’s opener. He overlapped from the back when Mason Mount initiated the attack. He also received feedback from the right wing-back, Callum Hudson-Odoi on the right side of the penalty box. Azpilicueta sent a shot over which Nick Pope failed to anticipate.

“I have the maximum respect for him, he is amazing. What a joy, a blessing to have a captain like this. I believe from the bottom of my heart the importance of a captain in the team, “said Tuchel of Azpilicueta. Tuchel’s arrival gave Chelsea fresh air and Azpilicueta returned to where he should be. He is a living legend that has not ended. The player’s story is not final yet to be written in the Chelsea history book.

ASL

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