Two men who know a thing or two about the art of defending, former Liverpool and Manchester United stalwarts Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville, have suggested that Chelsea full-back Cesar Azpilicueta is the best defender in the Premier League.
There is no doubting the Spaniard’s ability, consistency or versatility, with two years in English football having seen him become a key cog in a well-oiled Stamford Bridge machine, be that on the right of the back four or instigating Ashley Cole's exit with solid performances on the left.
Jose Mourinho has said of his Mr Reliable, while discussing Champions League challenges: “Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot. I think a team with 11 Azpilicuetas probably could win the competition because football is not just about the pure talent. Football is also about character and personality and Azpilicueta has all those traces of a winning personality.”
High praise indeed, and Messrs Carragher and Neville have now added their two-penneth, with the latter stating on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football when pressed on the top performer among English football’s elite: “I’d say, for consistency of performances, it would be one of the Chelsea lads – and I’d probably say Azpilicueta. For technical defending, not making a mistake, not being in the wrong position, not getting caught out… I don’t see him making a mistake.”
How, though, does Azpilicueta compare to the rest of the Premier League’s defensive crop – where there are international performers aplenty to be found at Arsenal, Manchester City, Southampton, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Liverpool?
|Team||Clean Sheet||Error Lead To Goal||Outfielder Block||Total Tackle||Total Clearance||Interception||Fouls||Appearances||Mins Played|
|Vincent Kompany||Man City||3||0||6||20||43||19||18||10||900|
|Pablo Zabaleta||Man City||2||0||0||19||15||9||7||7||606|
|Winston Reid||West Ham||1||0||8||13||91||13||8||10||834|
Azpilicueta certainly holds his own when it comes to putting in a tackle and only Chelsea team-mate Branislav Ivanovic betters his return. He also fares favourably in the clearance and interception departments – especially when compared to those who fill a similar role, such as Everton’s Leighton Baines and Manchester City’s Pablo Zableta.
However, it is difficult to make comparisons on the attributes being held up as Azpilicueta’s best.
How do you set a consistency benchmark, especially when putting a player from the Premier League leaders up against those kept a little busier further down the standings?
Nonetheless, there's little to suggest that Mourinho, Carragher and Neville have made an ill-judged choice.
Azpilicueta is rarely injured, will run himself into the ground for the good of the collective cause and possesses all of the attributes required to be a top-class defender.
The most surprising aspect in all of this is that he has only been capped on nine occasions by his country. But, then again, he is still only 25 and should, in theory, still have the best years of his career ahead of him.