Why Azpilicueta is Chelsea's most important signing of the summer
Chelsea may have spent £160m on the likes of Marc Cucurella, Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly this summer, but persuading Cesar Azpilicueta to extend his deal could prove to be their shrewdest move yet.
Barcelona have a long-standing interest in Azpilicueta, and it looked like the Spanish defender might follow Andreas Christensen in leaving Stamford Bridge for the Camp Nou on a free transfer with his existing deal expiring this summer.
But the club captain is now set to extend his decade-long stay with the Blues by another two years, having signed a deal which runs until 2024 on Thursday. There are three key reasons this could be Chelsea's best move of the summer.
OFFICIAL: Cesar Azpilicueta extends his Chelsea contract 💪 pic.twitter.com/XJoapPUHEc— Football Transfers (@Transfersdotcom) August 4, 2022
Azpilicueta is a leader of the dressing room. Signed from Marseille back in 2012, he was appointed vice captain when John Terry left in 2017, taking on his more senior role when Gary Cahill departed Chelsea two seasons later.
There is a youthful influence in Chelsea's best XI, with Mason Mount, Reece James and Kai Havertz all aged 23 or younger, and Azpilicueta's experience is invaluable in helping steer the squad through an intense season.
He captained Chelsea to Europa League glory in 2019 and then the Champions League in 2021. Now aged 32, he doesn't even need to play every game to have a positive impact - just look at the roles Terry and Didier Drogba played in title-winning seasons towards the end of their careers.
A fine tactical option
Having Azpilicute on the books for this campaign also saves coach Thoms Tuchel a tactical headache. As well as Christensen, Antonio Rudiger left this summer on a free to Real Madrid. Down two centre-backs, the Blues recovered one with the €40m acquisition of Koulibaly from Napoli.
But they needed another if Azpilicueta wasn't going to be around, and although Cucurella can deputise in the back three, the £55m/€65 arrival from Brighton does his best work on the left flank. Reece James - statistically the deadliest wing-back in the Premier League last season - even filled in at centre-back in pre-season.
Add Azpilicueta to the mix and Koulibaly can play on his preferred side of a central defence, Cucurella can cover for a Ben Chilwell still recovering from injury, and James can be left uninhibited as he looks to improve upon his goal involvement of one every 133 minutes last season.
As well as leading off the field, Azpilucueta can also lead on it.
It is also a positive PR exercise for Chelsea, showing the world of football that players can turn down Barcelona for Stamford Bridge after all.
Chelsea were in talks with Raphina before the Brazil winger joined Barcelona from Leeds, and the Blues were left particularly stung when Sevilla and France centre-back Jules Kounde agreed terms with them, only to join Barca at the last after positive talks with their coach, Xavi.
Barca fans have enjoyed taunting Chelsea about those players and others this summer, but the result of stealing Kounde is that Chelsea pulled out all the stops to bolt down Azplicueta.
That they have been successful could reap significant rewards both on and off the field.