The Case for Branislav Ivanovic to Be Chelsea's First-Choice Right-Back
Throughout his squad, the Blues manager has world-class players competing for places, especially on the defensive flanks.
We saw that battle won by Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta in Chelsea's season opener against Burnley on Monday—the duo playing right-back and left-back, respectively.
As the season progresses, however, we can expect Filipe Luis to be first choice on the left, so where does that leave Azpilicueta?
Competing with Ivanovic, of course.
The Spaniard is a very talented player, but it's a battle he may well lose.
Bleacher Report looks at some of the reasons why.
Branislav Ivanovic provides Chelsea with a physical edge in defence, complementing Gary Cahill and John Terry.
He's tough, puts his body on the line and competes for everything.
Whenever wingers come up against him, they rarely win the physical battle—if ever.
There have been times when Ivanovic has appeared a monster for Chelsea.
In a team that continues to evolve, with a midfield carrying more emphasis on creative football heading into 2014/15, Jose Mourinho needs to offset that with the less attractive side of the game.
Cesar Azpilicueta has shown he can mix it but not like Ivanovic. He plays in the face of the opposition and is just what Chelsea need at the back.
In the past three seasons, Branislav Ivanovic has scored 16 goals.
It's not a bad return for a defender, but when we consider when those goals have been scored, it makes it all the more impressive.
Ivanovic scored the decisive goal against Napoli in March 2012—the goal that kick-started the Blues' march to Munich where they lifted the Champions League.
Against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last season—despite there being more than £100 million worth of strikers on the pitch—it was Ivanovic who scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Chelsea.
If we go further back to April 2009 and a Champions League quarter-final with Liverpool at Anfield, Ivanovic scored twice to give the Blues the upper hand in the tie.
The point is, he has a knack for scoring important goals. After one game this season, he's already off the mark.
Defenders shouldn't be judged on their goalscoring ability—it's preventing them at the other end that is most important.
That said, Ivanovic offers Chelsea an extra outlet from set pieces and is a major threat.
He's a talented defender, and his goals help complete the package.
The Chelsea right-back has done it all in the game. He's lifted league titles, played at a World Cup, won the Champions League.
With that experience comes the knowledge and confidence to face the biggest tests over the course of a season.
Cesar Azpilicueta was excellent at left-back last season for Chelsea, but had Ashley Cole not suffered injury, then a loss of form, it's almost certain he wouldn't have played as many games.
Right now, Ivanovic is on form, and at 30 years old, he isn't showing any signs of career fatigue.
He's in prime condition, and with his experience, Chelsea are a more solid defensive unit.
Alongside that, his familiarity with Gary Cahill and John Terry serves him well.
Jose Mourinho knows the relationship the Serb has with the centre-backs is a strong one.
Look at the Chelsea dressing room right now—where are the leaders?
John Terry is the obvious one, followed by Didier Drogba. Elsewhere, though, it's a bit more difficult to pick them out.
This is a Chelsea team that has undergone considerable changes in recent seasons.
The club has been right to be ruthless at times, allowing legends such as Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole to depart, while Petr Cech has recently been replaced by Thibaut Courtois in goal.
What it has left Chelsea with is a group of talented players but a team still finding its feet.
Jose Mourinho needs leaders on the pitch, and Branislav Ivanovic is one of them.
He's captained his country, has been a Chelsea player for almost seven years and understands what it takes to win trophies at the highest level.
He might not be captain, but he often plays like one.
Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes