Chelsea into the depths pt. 2: Centerbacks solid for now, questions later

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Thiago Silva of Chelsea attempts to prevent Matt Targett of Aston Villa and Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea from clashing during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on May 23, 2021 in Birmingham, England. A limited number of fans will be allowed into Premier League stadiums as Coronavirus restrictions begin to ease in the UK. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Thiago Silva of Chelsea attempts to prevent Matt Targett of Aston Villa and Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea from clashing during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on May 23, 2021 in Birmingham, England. A limited number of fans will be allowed into Premier League stadiums as Coronavirus restrictions begin to ease in the UK. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) /
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LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 04: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea FC lifts the Champions League Trophy ahead of the Pre Season Friendly between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on August 04, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 04: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea FC lifts the Champions League Trophy ahead of the Pre Season Friendly between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on August 04, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images) /

2. Antonio Rudiger

Rudiger is another defender that has found a new lease on life thanks to the back three. Rudiger was always a bit of an aggressive defender and the back three provides that extra bit of security that allows him to be himself without leaving his partner exposed. Plus, it accentuates his ability on the ball as he’s allowed to dribble forward and look for new passing lanes.

Another important note is that Rudiger is easily the first choice left centerback. While the other roles in the back three may have debates, Rudiger easily wins it on the left. That is both a cause for celebration and worry.

The first worry is who fills in if Rudiger is injured or suspended. Last season, it was Kurt Zouma (somewhat awkwardly) who has now left. Christensen seems the most likely fill in but that pulls away from other positions. It’s a survivable concern, but Rudiger’s absence would tug on the entire back three.

Then there is the matter of his expiring contract. It’s very unusual for Chelsea to let a player enter into their last year of a contract, but Rudiger has remained at the club. The implication is probably that he will extend but, at the same time, he might be the most unlikely extension pending. The club already tried to move him on last summer and he’s now at the age where he has one last big move in him. That move would be much easier to pull off as a free agent so there should be some worry on Chelsea’s part, even with extension talks ongoing.

3. Cesar Azpilicueta

It’s taken some time, but Chelsea has finally found a successor to John Terry’s mantle. It’s been a running joke, er, trend that Azpilicueta would be pushed out of the team for years now. First it was Sarri’s usage of overlapping fullbacks. Azpilicueta survived. Then it was Reece James. Again, Azpilicueta survived. That last one might have come close, but Tuchel’s switch to back three will extend Azpilicueta’s time as a starter for years yet.

That’s why it was always a bit funny to see the notion that Jules Kounde would come to Chelsea and be an immediate starter, or that “you don’t pay that much for rotation” which simply isn’t true even in this current Chelsea squad. Azpilicueta is adored by Tuchel and he’s not going anywhere yet.

It does remain to be seen as to whether or not he can play in other positions in the back three. For the most part, Tuchel seems okay with keeping Azpilicueta to the right centerback spot as well as the occasional foray into the right wingback role. Given the on paper lack of fit for the latter, it is pretty clear that Azpilicueta will remain central to Tuchel’s side going forward.