[dropcap]P[/dropcap]remier League champions in waiting Chelsea have six players in the PFA team of the year, showcasing the superstar quality of their first-team squad.
From captain John Terry, Serb enforcers Branislav Ivanović and Nemanja Matić, creative talisman Cesc Fàbregas to the attacking quality of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, the Blues’ team has been comprised at great extent.
However, as such it is easy to overlook some of the other first-team members, especially one that cost a relatively modest £7 million a couple of seasons ago.
César Azpilicueta joined the West London side in 2012 from Olympique de Marseille as a promising right-back with experience at Spanish under-21 level.
Fast forward to the current day and he has been transformed into one of the most complete defenders in the Premier League, playing most regularly as a left-back in a star-studded team.
Breaking into a four-man defence that featured Ivanović, Terry, David Luiz or Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole would have been an unenviable task for the Osasuna youth graduate, but one he took to with aplomb.
Initially suffering from injuries and squad rotation, it was not until injury to Cole in 2013 that Azpilicueta established himself as a first-team regular.
Despite the presence of the likes of Ryan Bertrand, the Spaniard performed well on his unnatural flank and has only gotten better with more gametime on the left.
His emergence and star performances relegated Cole to the bench permanently and spelt the end of his time at Stamford Bridge, while also forcing Bertrand to leave the club in search of regular action.
The summer capture of impressive Brazilian defender Filipe Luis from Atlético Madrid threatened to challenge Azpilicueta’s place, but the incumbent has been an ever-present this season when available.
The 25-year-old has started 26 Premier League games, with suspension, injury and squad rotation the only opportunity for the marginalised Luis to be given a chance to play.
Azpilicueta has been on the unheralded stars of this season’s inevitable title success, with the defender both a stern stalwart against opposition attackers and a valuable attacking outlet on the front foot.
His presence in the Chelsea side has been almost automatic, with Azpilicueta’s selection complementing the other three members of a miserly Blues backline.
Although Bertrand won a place at left-back in the PFA team of the year, the powers that be at Stamford Bridge will not be missing the Southampton defender, with Azpilicueta’s presence the reason that Chelsea were happy to part company with the England international.
Although Bertrand and Southampton’s back four certainly deserve credit for their performances this season, had the Spaniard been included in the St Mary’s Stadium star’s place in the team of the year, bar Saints fans few would have complained.
In a national team that has undergone transition since relinquishing their World Cup crown in unceremonious fashion last summer, Azpilicueta is a player that will be included for many years to come.
Due to the presence of top left-backs such as Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat in the Spain reckoning, the Chelsea full-back’s best chances of regular inclusion in Vicente del Bosque’s starting XI ironically seem to be at his more natural right-back role.
Regardless, his versatility will be a key element for the Iberian nation in their efforts to regain a place amongst world football’s elite.
At club level, despite extreme expenditure and competition for places in West London, Azpilicueta has become a crucial player for Chelsea and an unsung hero in their continued success.
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