The dark clouds seemed to have been replaced by a ray of sunshine over Stamford Bridge as Chelsea recorded an impressive 1-1 draw against Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday night. Antonio Conte’s side, led by the ever-impressive Cesar Azpilicueta, produced a near-perfect display to momentarily switch the meltdown button off at the London club.
Only last month many were fearing for Conte’s job and now they have a realistic chance of progressing through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. They still have to eke out a positive result in the second leg at the Nou Camp in just over a fortnights time, but compared to the performances in January, things are looking a lot rosier in the garden for Conte.
Amongst all the madness at the Bridge, Azpilicueta is once again proving to be an underrated figure at the club and this was proven by his performance against Barcelona. The talk at Chelsea this season has revolved around their under-fire manager, Andreas Christensen, who will lead the line and their star man Eden Hazard. But it is Azpilicueta who is quietly going about his business in an impressive fashion.
For many seasons now, Azpilicueta has been one of the best all-round defenders, not just in the Premier League, but in Europe. He has won the title with Chelsea playing at right-back, left-back and in a back three. He’s not the tallest, nor is he the strongest of defenders, but his reading of the game, positional sense, and technical ability is up there with the very best in his field.
When Barcelona came to town they brought with them two of the most feared attackers in the competition in Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. Although the latter scored following a mistake from Christensen, both men, especially Suarez were dealt with by Azpilicueta.
The 28-year-old showed his qualities on the night but he also showed great leadership skills from the back, something Chelsea have been lacking since John Terry departed the club last summer. Azpilicueta is not going to be the leader Terry was during his time at the Bridge but he can be the man to lead this defence for many years to come.