Azpilicueta, the silent leader of Luis Enrique’s Spain who leaves Carvajal without a place

One day before the important round of 16 match of the World Cup in Qatar, César Azpilicueta is a serious doubt to play against Morocco. The Chelsea right-back was substituted at half-time in the match against Japan and was unable to play in Tuesday’s duel. Also, he still hasn’t been able to train with the rest of his teammates. His absence would be a very hard loss for Spain ever since Azpilicueta is a key piece for Luis Enrique. Of course, the most reliable defender with Aymeric Laporte. A player who does not capture as many media spotlights as other more famous players, but whose absence terribly damages the Spanish defensive system due to his rigor, concentration and performance. He’s there, when he’s not there, when his caliber as an elite defender really shows.

It probably won’t help that he plays for Chelsea in the Premier League. Maybe he’s not even a silent leader. Azpilicueta works to improve the rest and go unnoticed. And he gets it. There is no doubt that Spain’s performance is much higher when on the pitch, due to their experience, defensive fundamentals and hierarchy in defence. Ever since Azpilicueta entered Luis Enrique’s plans to play the last match of the group stage of the Euro Cup against Slovakia, Spain showed another competitive skin in defense every time he took to the field and cushioned the lack of strength in his own area. It’s not by chance.

The Navarrese defender intercepts a ball against Costa Rica. (Reuters/Hannah McKay)

There is a paradigmatic datum of Spain’s defensive strength with the Navarrese defender on the field. As published by Cadena data expert SER Peter Martinthe balance of goals from Luis Enrique’s selection on the pitch during this World Cup in Qatar is an 8-0 up and a 1-3 against. An abysmal difference for a team that lacked strength in both areas during the Luis Enrique era. Not adapting is crucial to winning the World Cup and Spain cannot afford so many defensive mismatches.

It is true that Dani Carvajal cannot be blamed for the two goals conceded against Japan nor the one suffered against Germany, where the first two came from the left wing of Alejandro Balde with the precious collaboration of Unai Simón and the other, after a serious error on the ball. But it’s also true that with him on the field, Spain is safer than with Carvajal. And that Carvajal suffered a lot in both matches, surpassed by the opponent’s speed. The race alongside Karou Mitoma, where Carvajal had a three-metre lead in the Japanese’s impossible passit ended with the Brighton forward winning the open and setting in a cross to the winger which Asano narrowly missed hitting the back of the net.

The key to defense

The defender, wanted by Barça this summer, raised the general defensive level of Spain in the last Eurocup and in this World Cup he is doing the same. Contributes inside the herb and outside. He explained it himself a week ago at a press conference. “We try to contribute things that 18-19 year old gamers may not have known. Then you see Gavi’s self-confidence when he got to the Nations League and when I was 17 I didn’t have that audacity. Each of us must make his own contribution, because my last two experiences in a World Cup have not been as I had dreamed of.”

What Luis Enrique gets with Azpilicueta is a leader in the field at 33 years old. Spain has talent, projection and quality. A splendid future. But now there is also not enough time for new bishops to emerge like the ones you’ve had in the past and there’s no margin for failure. Spain is the third youngest team in this World Cup in Qatar and only 6/26 players who make up the final classification had already played in a tournament of this type. It shouldn’t be forgotten. Azpilicueta doesn’t wear the bracelet on his arm, but it is as if he were wearing it. The importance of him goes beyond the excellent performance in the selection to the green.

The second oldest player in the national team after Sergio Busquets. (Reuters/Susana Vera)

It is very probable that Luis Enrique will try to present a starting team as similar as possible to the one seen against Costa Rica, where the Selection reached ecstasy in a match so complete as to be perfect. Grit, defensive vigilance, zero errors and an iron fist in the opponent’s area, with no news of the opponent in one’s own area. Azpilicueta was closing with Laporte and Rodri Hernández.

The element that allowed Luis Enrique to unleash Jordi Alba on the left wing and provide the defensive security needed to have a well-rounded and balanced team. Before Japan, incorporated successfully to assist Álvaro Morata 1-0 in a precise centre. Convincing César Azpilicueta to arrive in top form for the match against Morocco, a team with counter-attack potential, who love to run with Achraf Hakimi, Mazrazoui, En-Nesyri and Ziyech and that he also has the ability to damage set pieces, would be the first step to be in the quarterfinals.

One day before the important round of 16 match of the World Cup in Qatar, César Azpilicueta is a serious doubt to play against Morocco. The Chelsea right-back was substituted at half-time in the match against Japan and was unable to play in Tuesday’s duel. Also, he still hasn’t been able to train with the rest of his teammates. His absence would be a very hard loss for Spain ever since Azpilicueta is a key piece for Luis Enrique. Of course, the most reliable defender with Aymeric Laporte. A player who does not capture as many media spotlights as other more famous players, but whose absence terribly damages the Spanish defensive system due to his rigor, concentration and performance. He’s there, when he’s not there, when his caliber as an elite defender really shows.

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