Four months have passed since Chelsea went down in Leicester, the low point in another turbulent campaign and the trigger for a new management victim.
“A difficult night,” recalls Captain Cesar Azpilicueta. ‘The result was bad, but the feeling we all had was perhaps worse with the way we performed. We’ve been going down for the past two months. That game was bad.
‘We felt that we were not playing at our level. But the team’s response was strong. I think we are now in a position that we never thought possible that day. ‘
Cesar Azpilicueta will lead Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup final with Leicester City at Wembley
Azpilicueta (right) was benched by Frank Lampard (left) when Chelsea last lost to the Foxes
These are the rhythms of life under Roman Abramovich. Within a week of losing at King Power Stadium, when Leicester topped the Premier League and Chelsea dropped to eighth, Frank Lampard was out and Thomas Tuchel was on his way in.
On Saturday, as the teams clash in the FA Cup final, the Londoners are revived, with their latest head coach launching their latest fresh start with a return to a back three, a policy of inclusion and plenty of hugs.
“He’s calling too,” said Azpilicueta. ‘Communication isn’t just hugs. It’s also for shouting and correcting mistakes. He is very passionate, always trying to improve and learn things, always trying to pick up the details.
‘He is very specific. At the highest level, every meter can make a difference. You need everyone in the right place every time, so he’s very active, very expressive. ‘
Azpilicueta is now an integral part of Thomas Tuchel’s (right) reborn Chelsea team this season
There are echoes of Antonio Conte, who won the Premier League and FA Cup at Chelsea in two years. He was demonstrative, playing with a back three, and using meticulous video analysis to make sure players were right where he thought they should be. Although perhaps without Tuchel’s approachability.
“Antonio was also very active,” said Azpilicueta. “Different personalities, of course, but both very active, lead the game from the sidelines and give instructions.”
The versatile Chelsea skipper has seen all of this before. In nine years he played under eight different managers. He was signed as a right back under Roberto Di Matteo, turned into a left back by Jose Mourinho and deployed by Conte as one of three center backs.
Azpilicueta has been asked to play in a variety of roles since moving to West London
“That was perhaps the most challenging time,” he said. ‘A new position – in England, where we know the history of center-backs. Normally big, strong, a different kind of football. I spent a lot of time on videos and improved because I knew I had to be ready for it. You have to be open. Another manager may ask you something else and you want to be successful. ‘
Azpilicueta has adapted and survived. Even thrived. He returned to Orthodox law under Maurizio Sarri. Lampard made him captain, but left him out when Reece James emerged.
That night in Leicester, he stewed unused on the couch. Under Tuchel he is firmly anchored in the team, usually to the right of a back three. Occasionally as a fullback. Always set the standard and lead by example. “Chelsea has the DNA to win,” said Azpilicueta.
The Spaniard is looking for his seventh trophy with Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup final
‘Ever since I came here in 2012, I have felt the demand to win trophies. You jump into a dressing room that was just crowned champion of Europe and you see great personalities like Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic.
‘You learn from them every day. You wonder how they win so many trophies. Then you will understand why, because they give their best in every training session, they want to win in every match.
‘I came from Osasuna, where we fought against relegation. If we were away from home we would win two or three games per season and if we got a draw we would be happy.
It was a big step to move to Marseille, where they are demanding titles. We won trophies, but it wasn’t the same, we weren’t asked to win the Champions League.
Azpilicueta joined Chelsea in 2012 after they had just won the FA Cup and Champions League
Azpilicueta’s Chelsea managers
Roberto Di Matteo
(March 2012 – November 2012)
(November 2012 – May 2013)
(June 2013 – December 2015)
(December 2015 – May 2016)
(July 2016 – July 2018)
(July 2018 – June 2019)
(July 2019 – January 2021)
(January 2021 – present)
‘When you come to Chelsea, you have to win every game in every league and that is a huge challenge. You do not accept draws outdoors. It’s not the way Chelsea works. ‘
Azpilicueta has won six major trophies at Chelsea and is close to more. Last year’s final defeat to Arsenal, when he gave away the penalty to allow an equalizing goal and then walked away injured, is still shaky.
‘You don’t need extra motivation in the FA Cup final, but if you have a bad feeling, you want to come back. The game was in our hands and we let it go. It was the same when we lost the final in 2017. We came back the following year and won the cup. I hope we can replicate that this year, ”he said.
At the age of 31, Azpilicueta feels a responsibility to light the fire at new acquisitions, such as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, in the same way that Lampard, Terry and Co inspired him at the age of 22.
“There is not much time,” he said. ‘We don’t know how many chances we have of winning trophies. That’s what it’s all about. If we don’t have a good season, we have a change of managers. It’s all about winning. We had this situation this season. We were not at our best, not at our level. And now we have a great opportunity to win two trophies. ‘
The FA Cup and the Champions League, the two trophies that gleamed in the cupboard when he first came in. It would be a great way to close the circle.
Azpilicueta was awarded a penalty and was injured from the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal last season
Azpilicueta came to tears from the Wembley field last season, will he be happier on Saturday?