All good things come to an end and after an eleven-year stay at Stamford Bridge, Cesar Azpilicueta said goodbye to Chelsea fans. For many Blues, seeing a future without John Terry was difficult. Dave made sure that the academy graduate was not missed, especially not his leadership qualities on and off the pitch.
Jose Mourinho famously said that a side with 11 Azpilicueta's will the Champions League. Dave lifted the big ears under Thomas Tuchel's tutelage. It complimented his service for the Blues, with whom he had previously won the Premier League twice.
For eleven years, Azpilicueta became the beating heart of Chelsea. He played across the backline, on he right side and the left. In the back three, he was preferred on the right side. If Chelsea needed resilience, Azpi was thrown in the midst without care and with the desired results.
From Mourinho to Lampard, he enjoyed the trust of everyone who reigned at Stamford Bridge. His move to Atletico Madrid has left a gaping hole in a squad full of youngsters. While Thiago Silva's leadership skills will come in handy, Mauricio Pochettino does not have the numbers at right-back.
With his desire and quality, Reece James is an improvement on Azpilicueta. He is a future Chelsea captain and can be handed the armband by Pochettino right now. But the Blues are still short of an able deputy given James' injury struggles while a right-sided centre-back for a back-three formation is still needed.
Let's look at the options available for the Blues and how they will plug the void left by Dave.
The talented Chelsea academy graduate possesses the versatility and skill set required to potentially replace Azpilicueta at Chelsea, coming into his own with greater responsibility. Chalobah's ability to play in multiple positions makes him a suitable candidate for the role.
Chelsea managers have profited from this, deploying his as cover for James on 33 occasions and as a central defender 13 times. Like Dave, he is also adept on the left side and was deployed there twice while also asked to step up and cover their defence as a #6 twice.
The talented Manchester City defender can be a quality addition to the right side at Chelsea. After his rift with Pep Guardiola, Joao Cancelo will be willing to leave the Etihad Stadium. The Blues did business with Ciy for Raheem Sterling last time around and with Guardiola unwilling to give the Portuguese another chance, this deal can come to fruition.
However, City were burned by Bayern Munich last time around and will want a permanent transfer. Given Cancelo's age, he does not fit the current recruitment plan of buying young players on low wages and yet to fulfil their potential. A cut-price deal will entice both parties, with the Blues willing to welcome the player who scored nine goals and provided 22 assists in 154 appearances since his arrival from Juventus in 2019.
While Chalobah can step up and Cancelo can be a handy addition, the Blues seem to have done the business to replace Azpi in their ranks. The end of the 2023 January transfer window saw Chelsea add Malo Gusto to their ranks for €30 million. The right-back continued with Olympique Lyon on loan and will be reporting for duty at Cobham.
Todd Boehly and Co. gave him a seven-year contract and it will be pertinent to see whether he can live up to his potential as an understudy to James. In Gusto, the Blues can have the perfect replacement, as he is able to fill at right-back and take up the right-centre-back role. At 20, Gusto is of the right age profile and his stock will only increase with a sustained run with the Chelsea first team.