For musicians and rock bands, suffering from the difficult second-album syndrome is a common occurrence. It's only a select few that are able to avoid the trappings of not living up to the hype surrounding their debut sojourn into a cutthroat industry—and so it proves for many footballers.
The football equivalent of course—in Premier League circles at least—is overcoming that difficult first season. We've seen so many talented stars overcome by the tenacity of the English game in their debut year, but in Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea seem to have a player more likely to add his name to the list success stories rather than failures.
With Branislav Ivanovic very much the first choice at right-back for the Blues, not much was expected of the 23-year-old in his inaugural season with the Stamford Bridge club. But as the injuries piled up, with David Luiz, Gary Cahill and John Terry sidelined at various times this year, his role has been significant.
Ivanovic has returned to his roots in covering for Terry, leaving a void on the right, but the Serbian's absence has not been as disastrous as one may have initially thought. And that's credit to Azpilicueta.
The Spaniard has been solid defensively, while also giving Chelsea an extra dynamism going forward. Much like Ashley Cole on the opposite flank, he has linked up well with the likes of Juan Mata and Victor Moses in front of him—perhaps even more so in some instances than his predecessor.
For all his attributes, as a centre-back-cum-right-back, Ivanovic's attacking play can sometimes be found wanting—whether that be the quality of his delivery or timing, even. Azpilicueta on the other hand has the attacking side of his game all but mastered and one only has to recall Fernando Torres' opener against Aston Villa in December as acknowledgement of this.
Chelsea would go on to win 8-0 that day and Azpilicueta's delivery to his compatriot for the opener was of the highest order. It spoke volumes of his vision to spot Torres' run across the defender and his execution of that cross from deep was arguably as impressive as Torres' finish.
That's not to say he has not been without fault, however. At times this term, Azpilicueta has displayed a worrying tendency to be caught out of position, which has led to some dangerous openings and in some cases, goals.
For instance, he was outpaced and outwitted by Southampton's Luke Shaw in January, when the Saints clawed their way back into a game they had been trailing 2-0 in.
The 17-year-old raced the length of the pitch unchallenged before whipping his cross in, which Jason Puncheon eventually converted to draw level at 2-2. Azpilicueta had been too eager to get forward and support a Blues attack and Shaw exploited it expertly.
Despite this instance, Chelsea fans should be happy with what they have seen. Although, that said, now Terry has returned from his knee injury, Azpilicueta is going to have to reacquaint himself with the subs' bench.
Against Newcastle United at the weekend, Ivanovic was switched back to the right side of defence to make room for Terry and although the Blues crashed to a 3-2 defeat, it's difficult to imagine Benitez reneging on a tried and tested back four that has served Chelsea so well in the past 12 months.
It's still early days in Azpilicueta's Blues career and for a club whose fans often tag their heroes as Kings of the King's Road, in time they will no doubt be honouring their very own Cesar.
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