Chelsea’s 2-0 Champions League victory over Porto on Tuesday was a momentous occasion for multiple reasons. It gives the Blues a massive advantage heading into the second leg of the quarter-final, especially with two away goals scored already. The match was Cesar Azpilicueta’s 150th as Chelsea captain, an incredible achievement for such a consistent and dependable player.
When he first arrived from Marseille for a reported £7 million in 2012,“Dave” was a relatively unknown player on the world stage. During his time at Stamford Bridge, though, he has transformed himself into one of the true stalwarts of the club. He has made nearly 300 appearances in at least three different positions for Chelsea, all while winning two Premier League titles, two Europa Leagues, an FA Cup, and a League Cup. While he has never truly been considered amongst the EPL’s best defenders, his longevity and skill are comparable to the league’s elite.
This season looked to be the beginning of the end for Azpilicueta at Chelsea, with Frank Lampard clearly preferring Reece James and Ben Chilwell to the Spaniard in either full back position. Since Thomas Tuchel’s appointment as manager, though, Azpilicueta has regained his starting place as a part of the back three and has thrived in the role, making 15 appearances, 11 of which have been clean sheets. Tuesday’s win in Sevilla was another terrific individual performance, and especially sweet considering the milestone.
Azpilicueta was a crucial cog in the Blues’ machine against Porto, both at center back and wing back, going forward and defensively. Perhaps his biggest involvement came in the 41’, when Jesus Corona fizzed a low shot that looked destined to reach the bottom right corner of Chelsea’s net. Fortunately, the skipper was positioned perfectly, as usual, and made a key deflection to send the ball wide. If the Portuguese side had equalized before halftime, the entire match could have ended differently.
From an attacking standpoint, Azpilicueta left his mark as well. He did not score or provide an assist, as he did so many times during the Alvaro Morata era, but had a few nice chances that nearly went his way. The most obvious was his header off a Reece James free kick in the 63’ that was inches away from sneaking in at the near post. To be fair, the 31-year-old probably should have finished the opportunity, but his aggression in the dead ball situation was a welcome sight.
Azpilicueta will have a large role to play for Chelsea as this season comes to a close. He is likely to feature in the team’s first XI fairly often, although Thiago Silva’s recent return from injury might limit his minutes somewhat. Regardless of his position on the depth chart, though, the club captain has shown that he will always give 100 percent for the badge.
When his time in West London does eventually come to an end, Azpilicueta will be remembered by supporters as one of the great servants of the club. He never complained when he was replaced in the starting lineup, and he has been a few times during his tenure. He simply worked hard to recapture his manager’s trust with consistent high-quality performances, and usually found himself back on the field. There will never be another player as effectively versatile as Azpilicueta, and there will be few Chelsea players who are valued more by the fans.