Cesar Azpilicueta's evolution through the years at Chelsea
Azpilicueta has become one of the most complete defenders in the Premier League. Here's a look at his progression over the years at Chelsea.
Cesar Azpilicueta joined Chelsea from Marseille for £7.92 million - which is practically nothing by today's inflated market and considering how well he has performed for the Blues since his arrival.
Azpilicueta was relatively an unknown name when Chelsea wanted to sign him back in 2012. It was a time of transition for the club - they had just won the UEFA Champions League and players such as Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Salomon Kalou and Jose Bosingwa were leaving.
Their old guards such as Ashely Cole, John Terry, and Frank Lampard were no longer at their peak and an infusion of new blood into the side was required.
In the summer of 2012, under Roberto Di Matteo Chelsea brought the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar to Stamford Bridge. The signing of Hazard and Oscar took most of the limelight for Chelsea in the transfer market, and Azpilicueta's transfer slipped under the radar.
When he came to Chelsea he comfortably took over the right-back position - which was one of the problems for Chelsea - providing good cover in defense and helping out the attack when needed. In his first season with the club, Chelsea won the Europa League.
Transformation to left back
In 2013, Jose Mourinho returned to the club and the Portuguese was so impressed with him that he went on to say "Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot. I think a team with 11 Azpilicuetas would probably win the competition (Champions League) because football is not just about pure talent".
At the end of the season, Azpilicueta was voted the Players' Player of the year. Under Jose, he regularly featured as a left back, though his natural position was of a right back and in the process, he displaced Chelsea legend Ashely Cole from his position.
The next season Azpilicueta (fondly called "Dave") again started as a left back, despite the signing of Filipe Luis. He was instrumental in Chelsea's 2014-15 Premier League triumph and also won the League Cup with the club that season.
He regularly featured as a left back, which prompted Premier League greats, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher to go on and claim him to be the best defender in the Premier League.
After a joyous campaign in 2014-15, he again started at left back in the next season, though things did not end well for Chelsea - they finished 10th in the league and failed to win any silverware that season.
A lot of players like Diego Costa and Eden Hazard were criticised for their poor performances and attitude towards the game. Despite all that, no questions were ever raised on Dave's performances, as on a personal scale he was still brilliant.
Transformation to centre back and captain
The 2016-17 season started as a new era for the Blues under Antonio Conte. The Italian manager intially used him as a left back but after two consecutive defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal, he swtiched to his famous 3-4-3 formation.
This led to the former Osasuna youth academy player being used as a centre back at the right side of a 3 man defence.
When needed, he also played as a right-wing back and left wing. He played every minute of the whole season for Chelsea, as the Blues went on to win their second Premier League title in three years.
It is an extraordinary feat that he has achieved - from a player playing as a left back whose natural position is of a right back to play as a centre back in a backline of three, all the while excelling at every position.
It was during the 2016-17 season that the footballing world saw a leader emerge in him. He not only delivered the best on the pitch, but also tried to get the best out of others on the pitch.
Victor Moses, who under Conte has been reborn as a player, has credited the Spaniard for his good form as he constantly barks orders at him, telling him about his positioning all the time and improving his game defensively.
Such displays of leadership saw him become the vice-captain, after John Terry left the club. He is not only a leader on the pitch for Chelsea, but off the pitch as well.
When Chelsea's record-singing Alvaro Morata come to the club in the summer of 2017, he revealed that it was Azpilicueta who had everything sorted out for him and he helped him a lot in settling into the Premier League and London.
Along with the pressure of being the best defender in the team this season, he has again taken up the role of being a leader on the pitch as he constantly comes out to receive passes from his teammates.
Dave has already assisted 6 goals for Alvaro Morata, despite playing as a centre back. In the absense of Gary Cahill, he has often stepped up as a captain for the team. The amount of discipline the Spaniard brings to the side when defending is very reminiscent of their former captain, John Terry.
Dave racked up 74 back to back games for the club since August 2015 - the run came to an end when he was dropped against Swansea in December 2017. In the last three seasons, he has made just one error leading to a shot on target from the oppostion team.
His consistency is invaluable to Chelsea, and he is one of the players who does not play for individualistic interest, but for the badge of the club. He is versatile and can adjust to any position when needed.
This might be a difficult season for Chelsea, but Azpilicueta still goes about his duties with the same dedication he did during their title-winning campaigns. Come next season, whether their manager stays or their star midfielder stays, Azpilicueta will be there to save the club.