Long-serving Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta has insisted he is relishing the ‘challenge’ of battling it out with Reece James for a starting berth, the Englishman having been in terrific form of late.
The 32-year-old is now in his tenth season at Stamford Bridge after originally joining the club from Marseille in 2012, going on to be a vital asset under a succession of managers and also captaining the club in recent years.
The Spain international has largely been an ever-present throughout his time in west London, although the emergence of James has seen his game time somewhat reduced, particularly with the 21-year-old currently in sparkling form.
After a loan spell at Wigan in 2018/19, the academy graduate broke into the Chelsea first-team under Frank Lampard and was the club legend’s preferred choice at right-back in the latter months of his tenure, before the arrival of Thomas Tuchel and the switch to a back five altered proceedings.
Having previously played in the system during Antonio Conte’s time at the club, Azpilicueta became an almost guaranteed starter at the back of last season, lining up in both a wing-back role and also as a centre-back as part of the back three.
This season, however, has seen Trevoh Chalobah preferred in that centre-back berth, while James – who is the club’s top scorer with five goals this season in all competitions – has seemingly nailed down the role at right wing-back, albeit with the Spaniard unfazed by the ‘healthy competition’ between the two players.
“I’ve known Reece for a long time, since he was in the academy, and I saw his potential, he said, as per the Sun. “He went to Wigan on loan, he did amazing. He came back and he was an important player already, playing in the first team.
“He has been scoring goals, giving assists, with a great level of confidence. I’m pleased for him — he’s a great talent.
“I always try to help him in any way I can.
“I think it’s natural when you play in Chelsea, at the moment the best team in Europe and always fighting for trophies. You have competition, players coming in, new players coming through the academy.
“I’ve always had this healthy competition with players and always try to give my best.
“In the end, it’s just the manager who makes the decisions.”