I don’t want to write this, not again, but the sad demise of Cesar Azpilicueta leaves me no option.
His start to the 2019/2020 season has been a collection of the worst 4 games he’s ever played for Chelsea.
Constantly giving away possession, more than 22 times in the 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford and 20 times against Sheffield United yesterday, three times more than anyone else on the pitch.
Clearly there’s a problem. I wrote last season that it was perhaps due to Sarriball that Azpilicueta was struggling, unable to adapt to the demands of what was being asked of him.
But what we’ve seen so far this season is different, it’s the simple things, things that every season up to now Azpilicueta has done without fuss, are being done wrong.
True against Norwich, he showed the ability to bomb forward, overlap the winger and put in a perfect cross for Tammy Abraham, who volleyed in his first Chelsea goal.
But that’s been it really, apart from that he’s been the weak link.
In the piece last year, I mentioned Reece James as the one to look at to replace him. With Davide Zappacosta now gone, it seems like that’s the path Frank Lampard will be taking.
But there’s one more thing Lampard can try before James returns from injury and starts to challenge for a starting place, and that’s remove the captain’s armband.
We’ve started this season with Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen at the heart of defence, both young and relatively inexperienced.
Against Sheffield United Fikayo Tomori was handed his Chelsea debut, coming in to replace Christensen.
Perhaps the weight of the armband and the burden of being responsible for these youngsters on the pitch is taking its toll.
Maybe Azpilicueta is thinking about too many things at once, worrying about others positioning and performances, instead of focusing on himself.
That could be why at numerous times this season he’s been the one deeper than anyone else, playing strikers onside.
Has he been giving away possession so much because he’s over thinking about what the central defenders will do with the ball once they have it?
This isn’t our Azpi.
Many believe he isn’t captain material anyway, a sentiment I largely agree with, but you can’t deny his passion and love for this club.
For 6 years he’s been the first name on the team sheet, and it’s true that all good things come to an end, but I really don’t think this is it for Azpilicueta.
In 2015 we saw the rapid demise of Branislav Ivanovic, something people have been quoting when talking about Azpilicueta.
However Ivanovic’s legs had gone, Azpilicueta has shown in flashes this season that his body hasn’t let him down, this appears to be a mental block.
Maybe the armband is weighing him down, some people are born leaders, thrive with the armband on, some people aren’t.
That doesn’t make them worse, you need people that turn up and do their job at a high level without making any fuss just as much as you need a vocal leader, keeping everyone in check.
Who takes the armband off him is another question, there’s no standout candidate for the job.
If Azpi does get moved out the side I expect Lampard will be looking at one of the academy graduates to take the role full time.
But right now it feels as though the only choice other than Azpilicueta is Jorginho or Antonio Rudiger.
And with Jorginho sitting in the natural vice captain position in all the club photographs this season, it appears he would be the one taking over.
Lampard has been impressed with the Italian so far and even the Chelsea fans who booed him last season have started singing his name.
Now that would be a comeback story!
As for Azpilicueta, this isn’t a hatchet job, I want Mr Consistent back, and I think one way of doing that is taking away his responsibility for the team and let him focus on himself.
In my opinion, Reece James replacing him is inevitable, but until then we have a duty to treat Azpilicueta with the respect he deserves.