Many expected Ryan Bertrand, a designated left-back, to step into the breach, but it has been the former Olympique de Marseille man that has been given the nod more often than not, out of position, in the England international’s absence.
The 24-year-old progressed through the ranks of Osasuna’s youth system, and made almost 100 appearances for the Pamplona-based outfit before a 2010 move to France.
Despite a serious knee injury keeping him sidelined for the guts of a season at the Stade Vélodrome, Azpilicueta suitably impressed during his time in Ligue 1 to earn a move to west London last summer.
Competing with Branislav Ivanović for a regular starting berth at Stamford Bridge, the Spaniard started 24 Premier League games in his debut campaign in England.
Despite putting in industrious displays last term, Azpilicueta has found himself behind Ivanović in the pecking order since José Mourinho’s arrival. However, with Cole’s injury, the everyday right-back has used his versatility to great use on the ‘wrong’ flank.
Azpilicueta has played with drive, energy and purpose when given the opportunity at left-back this term, and as such will be a real contender for a regular slot there – even when Cole is back to full fitness.
With the veteran England star out of contract in the summer, Mourinho and Roman Abramovich will be weighing up just who the long-term successor to the former Arsenal defender is.
Bertrand seemed to be in the driving seat after emerging from the club’s youth ranks, but Azpilicueta surely has held his hand up for consideration, with a permanent switch to left-back potentially on the cards.
On the national stage, Azpilicueta has represented Spain all the way from under-16 to under-23 level. The defender played a key role for the under-21 team over three years, and has represented La Roja on four occasions.
With the World Cup just over six months away, the Chelsea man needs regular game time at club level to force his way into Vicente del Bosque’s thoughts. His versatility in being able to play on either flank will be something that could well the difference between inclusion or missing out.
In Azpilicueta’s new role of left-back, the Chelsea man has the considerable obstacle of Jordi Alba to contend with. Despite the Barcelona man suffering from injury this term, the former Valencia star will be favourite to start at left-back for the world champions.
On the other side, Azpilicueta’s natural position of right-back, the Chelsea man may well have a better chance of inclusion. The right side of Spain’s defence is the one area that the powerhouses do not have world-class strength in depth, with Álvaro Arbeloa the current incumbent.
On both flanks Del Bosque has tried relatively inexperienced international players in his most recent squad, and there is no doubt that if Azpilicueta can continue to play regularly and impress, he could be on the plane to Brazil.
For a starting role, right-back seems like the most likely position if given the chance, but his regular appearances at left-back will display the versatility that could see him included in the squad in the first place.