MARSEILLE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 28: (L-R) César Azpilicueta of Olympique Marseille challenges Marcel Schmelzer of Dortmund during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Olympique Marseille and Borussia Dortmund at Velodrome stadium on September 28, 2011 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
It's pretty clear at this point that Chelsea FC will be looking to add to the mix at right back at some point before the start of next season, and given their preference for young players 22 year old Cesar Azpilicueta seems a likely target for the club. The young Spaniard made his first team debut in 2007 for Osasuna in La Liga where he came through as a youth. In his time at the Osasuna academy Azpilicueta was trained as an attacking midfielder where he showed enough promise to factor into the Spanish national team youth setup in that role. After debuting in the midfield Cesar got his big break when a rash of injuries in the defense opened up a slot a right back that he very adequately filled.
After the 2009/2010 season Azpilicueta had progressed enough to be on the radar of several top clubs throughout Europe. Manchester City, Arsenal, Barcelona, and Real Madrid all made inquiries before Marseille emerged with the players signature. The young right back was very impressive in the early going for Marseille before rupturing his ACL in November. That ended his debut season early, but he's come back in fine form so far this season. He's already made 19 appearances for the French side and has been instrumental in their second straight progression to the knockout round of the Champions League after a decade of third place finishes.
Having turned 22 at the start of the season, Azpilicueta would occupy one of the 17 non-homegrown slots on the Chelsea FC roster if signed in January. He's participated in the Champions League with Marseille this season so he will not be eligible to participate in that competition with a new club. If he can successfully make the jump to the Premier League it seems reasonable to expect he could give the club more than one contract at the club while still retaining some value if he's not quite up to Chelsea standards. This would certainly help to mitigate some of the risk involved with a transfer fee for the player.
Physically speaking, Azpilicueta is a prototypical wing back candidate. He stands 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 pounds. He's got fairly good speed and strength to go along with exceptional stamina. He's not very good in the air, but as a right back that's an area where he's rarely required to be a real asset. He does have some leaping ability though, so it's possible that as he matures he will improve in that area.
Technical gifts are what really separate Azpilicueta from many other right backs. He's an absolutely fantastic passer, rarely making a poor decision with where to go with the ball. He's also a very active defender. His tackling is top class even if he does tend to be a little too aggressive in that department at times. He's shown an adeptness at picking off opposing passes and starting the counter quickly, and he's also quite good at blocking shots in the box. Considering the fact that he's a converted attacker who has missed a bunch of time due to injury, his defensive development is pretty stunning. He's not particularly noted for his finishing, but as a right back we don't have much of a sample to look at.
Positionally speaking, Azpilicueta is a bit of an oddity. He's a left footed player which is something you rarely see out of your right back. That fact in combination with his history in the midfield would lead me to believe he'd be a fairly versatile addition to the squad. As a right back he generally plays in a very advanced position, almost acting as a wing back for Marseille. If he's going to be that far advanced he really needs to be a workhorse who's not afraid to tackle, and in that regard he certainly fits the bill.
I've been holding off on posting this for a bit as I was hoping to find some decent video to include, but unfortunately the is very little available in that regard for Cesar. I do have a nice little goal of his though so you can at least get a look at him in action:
The papers are linking us heavily to a very reasonably priced £12 million January move for the young Spaniard, but I personally just don't see it happening. With Marseille reaching the knockout rounds of the Champions League and drawing a very beatable Inter side I just can't see that they have the financial need to sell at that price. They also have to give a portion of any future transfer fee to his former club, so it's not as if the club will be making a killing on this deal.
Marseille are also in a position where they need to play well in the second half in order to play any sort of European football next season. In this regard selling Azpilicueta will likely be extremely damaging. Because of these two factors I'd really be surprised to see Azpilicueta on the move for anything near the prices being mentioned this month. This screams of the type of deal we could pull off in June but will not be seeing mid-season. Then again, Marseille have been linked with Salomon Kalou in the past, so maybe there is something to be worked out for this season. I'm sure we'll hear a ton on this in January, but I'd be really surprised if there is a match to be found on this one (pleasantly surprised though).