Appearances: 45 starts (2 as substitute)
Minutes: 3,420 in Premier League; 678 in domestic cups
Statistics (per 90 minutes, Premier League): 1.74 tackles won (47.5% success rate); 1.9 aerial duels won (51.4% successful challenges); 3.68 clearances.
"Playing below standards" was a constant theme of Chelsea's 2015-16 season and not many escaped the clutches of that malaise. César “Dave” Azpilicueta was one of those who came closest — he may have had a few difficulties as well in producing to his usual level, but they were largely overshadowed by much more major struggles elsewhere in the squad.
For Azpi, the new season meant a new start in more than one way. In addition to the new coach and a brand new gameplan, Azpilicueta also had to learn a brand new position for the second time at Chelsea, and third overall in his career. Once a right winger at Osasuna, Azpilicueta arrived at Chelsea as a right back, only to become a left back during José Mourinho's second tenure at the club. Now, Conte asked him to play as a central defender, occupying the right side of the three-man back line. Needless to say, Dave, the most competitive and most dedicated person in the squad, made the transition flawlessly and the only weakness he did show was down to something very much out of his control: his height.
Azpilicueta’s move to a more central role on the pitch was mirrored by his rise to prominence as a squad leader and next in line for the captain’s armband after Gary Cahill. Victor Moses, reborn as a right wing-back, paid tribute to his defensive partner’s guidance several times throughout the season: Azpilicueta was the chatty right-hand side of the equally chatty center and center-left positions in the back three.
But Dave's impact was not limited to just defence. Throughout the season, he was also key to Chelsea controlling the tempo of the game and transitioning from defence to midfield. Azpi led the entire Premier League in total number of passes while completing the rare feat of playing every single minute of every single match of the league season.
As one of the more underrated and non-flashy members of the regular starting eleven, he was perhaps an unsurprising snub from the PFA’s Team of the Year. He did get a nomination for the Premier League’s Player of the Year award, losing to once similarly underrated teammate N’Golo Kanté — maybe it will be Azpi’s turn next season!
The Good: César Azpilicueta's career at Chelsea has been defined by effort, excellence, and consistency, and this season has been no different. In our community player ratings (ed.note: which a certain lazy blogger still hasn’t collated into the annual WAGNH Player of the Year award list), Azpilicueta was rated below 7.1 on 11 times out of 47 appearances.
The Bad: Azpilicueta might have a few nightmares about going up for far-post headers against Dele Alli, two of which were scored in the match at White Hart Lane (r.i.p.) that ended our record 13-match winning streak.
The Best: Providing the assist for the goal that clinched the Premier League title for Chelsea. Honorable mention: that goal against Leicester City in the League Cup. Honorable mention, part two: just about every single minute of his time on the pitch this season.
Verdict: Azpilicueta already has the official support of WAGNH if he were to bid for next year’s captaincy over Gary Cahill. If not, that’s fine, he’ll still be number one in our hearts.
Azpi, now at the ripe old age of 27, soon to be 28, is one of the longest-serving members of the squad. In his five years at Stamford Bridge, he’s been nothing if not an adorable, yet fierce (and sometimes creepy) picture of consistency, dedication, versatility, adaptability, maturity, etc. etc. etc this could go on for a while.
In short, Dave is life, Dave is love. (Keep, obviously, and if you vote otherwise, you’re going to have to have serious ‘splaining to do.)
What would you do with César Azpilicueta next season?
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