Cesar Azpilicueta has revealed his admiration for Maurizio Sarri’s off-beat style of defending.
Under Antonio Conte, Azpilicueta was a stable in the former manager’s defensive backthree that brought stability at the back for the Blues, allowing them to march to the Premier League title in 2016-2017 and the FA Cup the following season. The arrival of Maurizio Sarri last summer saw the west London club return to a backfour, with the Spaniard reverting to the fullback role, where he had played under ex-manager Jose Mourinho and in his earlier years at Marseille.
While Azpilicueta is familiar with that position, Sarri has a different interpretation of the backfour. The former Napoli manager prefers his fullbacks occupy positions further up the pitch and this more radical defensive approach has seen the Blues vulnerable at times, especially in the match against Arsenal.
Yet Azpilicueta embraces the challenge of Sarri’s quirky brand of defending. “I prefer to defend as far as possible up the pitch,” said the Spanish international. “It’s different and you can see we press very high, the defensive line is very high but that’s what we want. We want to be dominant in the game and recover the ball as quick as possible and enjoy the ball when we have it.”
The 29-year-old went on to say that a high defensive line is favourable for him as it keeps the opponent forwards as far from the penalty box as possible. “You have the striker where you want him, as far as possible from the goal. These days, even when you are in the box you cannot feel safe because the quality the strikers have,” added Azpilicueta. “It’s more complicated to defend there.”
The Spaniard also gave his thoughts on Sarri’s preferred defensive style that sees the Blues fully concentrate on the position of the ball rather on their opponents’ positioning – a significant departure from the more conventional defensive approaches given the former Napoli manager’s unusual “football upbringing.”
“It is different,’ Azpilicueta said. “But it helps that he (Sarri) tells you very clearly what he wants and we analyse every game to see where we can improve. Defensively he says we want to be looking at the ball the whole time, high pressing. We’re all working in training to get it as good as possible.
“Even though we had a good start, I think we can still improve. We’re a very good team. We’ve been working very hard to get into that new idea of football. It is still September so hopefully there is some room for improvement.”