Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta has played every minute of Premier League and Champions League football since Thomas Tuchel arrived, and the Blues skipper’s high-level performances in that period have contributed to so many Chelsea clean sheets.
In fact, no club in Europe’s top five leagues has recorded more shutouts in the past three months than Chelsea 14 in all competitions, the most recent against a Manchester City side who hadn’t fail to score away from the Etihad since December.
‘It was important to improve the defensive record we had,’ says Azpilicueta of the strides we have taken in that part of the pitch.
‘We were conceding too many goals and we were not solid enough. In football it is difficult to win every game 3-2, 4-3, 4-2. Sometimes you have to win 1-0 and have a strong, solid performance at the back.
‘As a team we defend together, and we work together with the same idea. It’s what we have improved a lot. Also when you have the attacking players we do doing an amazing job every single game, pressing high, every bit helps the defenders. Working together with the same goal is key in achieving the results.’
Of his own continued involvement on the right side of the back three, Azpi says he is ‘delighted’ to have Tuchel’s faith and tries to replicate what the boss wants from him as a defender and a captain.
‘He gave me the confidence to be in the team, to be playing, to be part of it,’ adds Azpi.
Nine years at Stamford Bridge has taught him plenty, not least to expect a flurry of crucial fixtures as campaigns draw to a conclusion. That is once again the case this season as our fight continues on three fronts, with Brighton’s visit in the Premier League tonight offering us the chance to move into the top four.
‘We have games coming up every three or four days, and every game is very important,’ notes the Spaniard.
‘We have to recover the body, the head. We are obviously doing a bit less training on the pitch, but we are also doing a lot of meetings and trying to be fresh and ready.
‘It’s also important everybody in the squad is ready because we need everybody. At Chelsea we are used to being at the end of the season and fighting for every competition and playing every few days. We have to be ready for the challenge.’