Chelsea’s disappointing stalemate with Leicester City this evening showcased once again the fact that Cesar Azpilicueta’s best days are long behind him.
Lampard’s difficult start
The Blues welcomed Brendan Rodgers’ men to Stamford Bridge a short time ago, for the respective clubs’ 2nd outing of the new season.
Both sides saw their campaigns get off to underwhelming starts last weekend, albeit to different degrees.
Today’s visitors, Leicester, were held to a 0-0 draw by Wolves at the King Power Stadium, despite having dominated the ball.
Chelsea, meanwhile, were thumped 4-0 by Manchester United at Old Trafford, in a true baptism of fire for new boss Frank Lampard.
The Londoners also went on to fall to defeat at the hands of Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday night.
Significantly, however, Chelsea’s penalty shootout loss to the European champions came in a markedly-improved performance.
The Blues looked dangerous throughout proceedings, with many having felt as though Chelsea were hard done-by in coming away with nothing to show for their efforts.
Leicester secure share of the spoils
And the opening quarter of an hour at Stamford Bridge this evening painted the picture of a side who had found their identity.
A scintillating, intent-filled start to the clash saw Chelsea absolutely blitz Leicester, courtesy of a high press when out of possession, and incisive movement and passing when on the ball.
This saw all of Pedro, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic go close within the first 5 minutes, before Mount finally put the Blues in front before the 10-minute mark.
After Wilfred Ndidi dallied on the ball on the edge of the Leicester box, Mount pounced, dispossessing the Leicester midfielder, before drilling home beyond the helpless Kasper Schmeichel.
1996 – Mason Mount is the first English player to score for Chelsea under an English manager since Dennis Wise under Glenn Hoddle against Blackburn in May 1996. Scafell. pic.twitter.com/fv3QKvDV6t
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 18, 2019
Chelsea, however, failed to turn their early dominance into any form of further advantage as the half wore on.
And, in the end, as it did versus both Manchester United and Liverpool, the wastefulness of the capital giants eventually proved costly.
A whipped corner from the right just over 20 minutes from time saw Ndidi make up for his early mistake, as the Nigerian international bulleted a superb header into the back of the hosts’ net.
Both sides huffed and puffed as the clash wore on, with Leicester having actually missed a gilt-edged chance to secure all 3 points a short time later, when Jamed Maddison blazed a strike over the bar from point-blank range.
In the end, however, the full-time whistle saw the spoils shared, as Frank Lampard’s search for a first win as Chelsea boss continues.
In truth, despite their positive start, few of Chelsea’s stars consistently impressed throughout proceedings this evening.
The likes of Pedro, Olivier Giroud and Jorginho excelled early on, but eventually faded into the background as Leicester gained a foothold in the clash.
One of the Blues’ starters, though, proved particularly unimpressive.
The individual in question was Cesar Azpilicueta.
Spanish stopper Azpilicueta took to the pitch in his usual right-back berth this evening, captaining Frank Lampard’s men in London.
This came despite the soon-to-be 30-year-old having endured a torrid outing at Old Trafford last time out:
César Azpilicueta lost possession 22 times against Man Utd, more than any other Chelsea player.
Caught out far too often in the second half. 😨 pic.twitter.com/i9djSXwTah
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 11, 2019
Azpilicueta’s fortunes, however, did not improve even remotely this evening.
Another hugely sub-standard display on the part of the once-reliable defender saw Azpilicueta toil both in and out of possession.
The veteran was, as was the case versus Manchester United, consistently caught out of position, particularly in the second-half, an issue which could easily have cost Chelsea their share of the spoils.
In addition, his timing in the challenge appears to have deserted the veteran (he was beaten in the air by Ndidi for Leicester’s goal), with a sharp decline in athleticism and pace having allowed the likes of James Maddison and Jamie Vardy space down the Chelsea right on far too many occasions at Stamford Bridge.
Perhaps most-concerning of all for Azpilicueta, though, is the fact that the veteran’s abilities on the ball also appear to have completely deserted him.
Rushed clearances and misplaced headers were strewn throughout his latest showing, with the cool head that for so long proved crucial in organising Chelsea’s backline now looking the most-likely of their defenders to cost the Blues.
The Spaniard’s declining athleticism also mean that he now looks a non-factor going forward, a major handicap for Chelsea in an age where attack-minded full-backs are flourishing more than ever before.
In summary, on the back of a campaign which made abundantly clear that he was already on the decline last time out, Cesar Azpilicueta’s start to the new season suggests that the stopper’s form is only set to drop further from the standards required of a top full-back as time wears on.
Youngster Reece James may not yet have made a Premier League appearance for Chelsea, but, if Azpilicueta continues on his current trajectory, the 19-year-old could well be be fast-tracked into a starting berth at Stamford Bridge, upon his return from injury.
I’m thankful Surgery went this evening. Minor set backs for major come backs! See you all soon! Thanks for the support💙 pic.twitter.com/5PWri55CR3
— Reece James (@reecejames_24) July 11, 2019