Premier League

Reece James vs Cesar Azpilicueta: Who will be Chelsea’s starting right-back next season?

Signing a new left-back is a priority for the Blues, but Lampard will also have to choose his first choice right-back for next year

9:00am on Sunday 6th September 2020
By
Cameron Smith | Chelsea Analyst

The academy product versus the club captain.

The youngster versus the experienced head. Reece James versus Cesar Azpilicueta. Who will start the 20/21 season as Chelsea’s No. 1 right back?

There is a valid argument available for both players, and it’s clear that at the time of writing, with the left-back void still unresolved, James and Azpilicueta are by far Chelsea’s two best full-backs.

Both impressed in Lampard’s maiden campaign as Chelsea boss, but it looks as though there’ll only be room for one of them in the starting XI next season.

Lampard will have several major decisions to make ahead of his second year in charge, but this may well be the hardest.

For Cesar Azpilicueta

The Blues’ club captain, and longest serving player, Azpilicueta has been arguably the most consistent defender in the Premier League since his £8m move from Marseille to Stamford Bridge in 2012.

The versatility of Azpilicueta has been demonstrated throughout his time at Chelsea, playing at left-back, centre-back and in his favoured right-back slot.

Now 30, the Spaniard enjoyed a fairly successful 19/20 season, despite Chelsea’s clear defensive woes.

30 yrs - D (RL) - Chelsea
85
Defending
Creative
Passing
Attacking
Shooting
Decisive
Aerials
Physical
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
3230
Played matches
36
2
6
Tackles Won P90
1.50
Interceptions P90
1.84
Duels won P90
5.71
Dribbles P90
0.33

In the league, his 102 successful tackles, 66 interceptions and 80 blocks all ranked first in the Chelsea squad, and both his six assists and 93 aerial duels won placed him second in the squad.

3.3 tackles and interceptions P90 added to his 1.2 key passes P90 (in all competitions) show how effective Azpilicueta was at both ends of the pitch.

Often seen as simply a defensive full-back, Azpilicueta demonstrated his attacking prowess in 19/20, with his eight goal contributions in the league, the most he’s ever managed for Chelsea.

Azpilicueta has proven himself to be a reliable pillar in Chelsea’s defence for the past eight years, and with the youthful exuberance further forward on the pitch, Lampard may well opt for a bit of experience in the back four.

For Reece James

Chelsea’s academy player of the year in 2018, James returned to Chelsea in 19/20 following a prominent loan spell at Wigan Athletic.

Whilst James only mustered 16 starts in the Premier League last season, his importance grew exponentially as the season went on, featuring heavily following Project Restart.

Despite only registering two assists in the league, James’ xA P90 of 0.19 bettered Azpilicueta’s 0.17 and was more than both Kyle Walker (0.07) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (0.10) managed combined.

20 yrs - D (R), DM (C) - Chelsea
81
Defending
Creative
Passing
Attacking
Shooting
Decisive
Aerials
Physical
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
1510
Played matches
24
0
2
Tackles Won P90
1.43
Interceptions P90
1.37
Duels won P90
7.03
Dribbles P90
1.73

Furthermore, James’ 1.7 dribbles P90 in the league, which rises to 2.3 in the FA Cup, far exceeded Azpilicueta’s lowly 0.3, and ranked fourth in the league for full-backs to have played at least 1000 minutes in 19/20.

In addition, his 6.6 crosses P90 was the fifth highest in the league based on the same metrics.

Although 2.8 tackles and interceptions P90 doesn’t represent huge defensive output, James is only 20 and this side of his game will develop with experience, something that Lampard looks certain to give him.

Conclusion

Whilst it’s evident from the 19/20 data that Reece James is the more dangerous attacker, Azpilicueta is a leader, and provides much needed solidity in a leaky Chelsea backline.

Rotation between the two will most certainly occur, and Azpilicueta may well fill in at left-back as well, but as for the starting slot at right-back, the edge may be swung the club captain’s way, simply because of his defensive nous - especially given the attacking talent that is arriving.

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