Analysing Cesar Azpilicueta's defensive masterclass against Tottenham
It wasn’t Chelsea’s best performance in recent weeks, but they managed to take a crucial three points to climb back to the top of the table. They took their chances and remained solid at the back. It was a much improved Tottenham performance from mid-week and they battled hard.
However, the quality of Chelsea shone through and it was a deserved win for the league leaders. Despite the doubts about whether they can challenge for the league title this season, they are certainly the in-form team in the division and couldn’t be in better shape ahead of their match against Manchester City next weekend.
The move to a 3-4-3 formation has been the reason for their turnaround in form and it shows why Antonio Conte is considered a tactical genius. It was a huge call for Chelsea to appoint a man with no experience in the Premier League, especially considering their dodgy track record, but the Italian is paying back the faith shown in him.
The star of their win over Tottenham was Cesar Azpilicueta. The Spaniard has been asked to move to a centre back role as part of a three-man defence and he has adjusted superbly. He has never let down the club and deserves the praise coming his way since the change of formation.
Azpilicueta is a good attacking option, but his defensive ability has been allowed to shine since his role in the side has changed. He is very robust and isn’t scared of the less attractive side of the game. That really showed on Saturday as he stopped several promising Tottenham attacks.
Before the game, Chelsea were the odds-on favourites due to Tottenham’s struggles in attack recently. In addition, the club hadn’t conceded since the change of formation and they will have entered the game full of confidence.
An early strike from Christian Eriksen could have blown the wind out of their sails, but their strong mentality was on display and the Chelsea defence maintained their concentration. Azpilicueta is emerging as a real leader and that will please his manager.
During the match, the defender completed seven of his ten attempted tackles and made a further four interceptions. He was the best player on the pitch in terms of ball retrievals and that shows just how important he is to this Chelsea side.
Before the change, David Luiz and Gary Cahill had been criticised for their defensive frailties, but they have been reborn and the addition of Azpilicueta’s tenacity alongside them has helped in that. To add to his ball recoveries, the 27-year-old made five clearances to relieve pressure on his side.
Although his most significant contribution was to win the ball back, Azpilicueta was good in the air and won both of his aerial duels. He has developed physically since arriving in England and has shown a huge level of tactical knowledge since the arrival of Conte. Many players would have struggled with moving positions abruptly, but Azpilicueta has taken it in his stride. The energy of Victor Moses on the left wing has helped the defender settle into his role, as he is afforded lots of cover.
Chelsea can’t be ignored when it comes to the title race this season and this latest victory has maintained their momentum going into a huge match against Manchester City. They struggled against Arsenal and Liverpool, but they have since changed formation and will provide much tougher opposition.
Cesar Azpilicueta was in fine form against a much improved Spurs team and Chelsea will need him to deliver a similar performance next weekend against Sergio Aguero and co. Since the tactical change, Nemanja Matic, Pedro and Victor Moses have all received a lot of praise, but Azpilicueta has been equally as important to Chelsea’s rise to the top of the table.
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