Having joined as one of the less heralded signings following Chelsea's Champions League triumph in 2012, César Azpilicueta is now less than a handful of games away from 200 Chelsea appearances. Over the years he's become one of the first names on the spread sheet, be that at right back, left back, right wing, or more recently, center back and right wing-back. Jose Mourinho once joked reverently that he could win the Champions League with eleven Azpilicuetas in his team — we're slowly exploring that reality one position at a time with the 27-year-old Spanish international.
With the Azpi cloning project in full swing and Conte's 3-4-3 revolution brining out quality from Chelsea not seen in about two years, there's plenty of good cause for optimism around Stamford Bridge. But despite the three wins on the trot in the Premier League, including a 3-0 pasting of defending champions Leicester City and a 4-0 trouncing of Jose Mourinho's new family, Azpilicueta isn't getting carried away.
"Even though we are one point off the lead it still feels like we are a long way away. I'd like to be higher, we have to keep improving. The two games we lost in a row and also the dropped points at Swansea hurt us a lot."
"We have to keep getting the points to be up there. We have the chance to prepare all week for a game because we don't have European football. We want to be there and we will try and arrive at the final sprint with a chance to win the title. But it's a long way off, we have to think about Southampton away first."
If anybody had been thinking about getting carried away, Wednesday's reality check at West Ham hopefully dissuaded any such notions. We can make sure to not have completely wasted that competition however If the squad can channel the frustrations of that night into continuing focus in the league.
"Yes, frustrating, because we have lost one of the three chances we had to win a trophy. I think we could have done better. When you lose that type of game you have to look to improve. We are in very good form in the league and we have to move forward from Wednesday and come back strong."
Should Conte, as expected, restore the lineup from the recent league wins on Sunday, Azpilicueta will once again be deployed at center back, which is still a new position for him. But he's adapted well, as have the likes of Victor Moses at wing-back. Most importantly above all, the spirit and confidence of the squad is going strong.
"I try to play my part in the team. The most important part of the system is the spirit of the team and the way we work. The tactics make a difference but what was most pleasing was the way the team work made it happen. Some players have different roles now but we have all week to work on that and we have a very clear idea what to do in the game."
-Cesar Azpilicueta; source: Sky
By the time Chelsea play this weekend, all the other teams at the top of the table will have played. Whether they win or lose, the important part will be trying for all three points in what's promising to be a tough encounter against Southampton at St. Mary's.