Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta has revealed how Thomas Tuchel’s reenergising of the club’s changing room played a huge part in their shock Champions League success in 2021.
Tuchel succeeded Frank Lampard as Chelsea boss in January 2021 and less than five months later was celebrating victory in European club’s football primary competition, after beating Manchester City in the Champions League final.
Chelsea were a lowly ninth in the Premier League table when Tuchel took over, and although they had progressed through to the knockout stages of the Champions League, the Blues had offered little to suggest they were capable of making it to the latter stages.
Speaking to BT Sport’s James Richardson on the Kings of Europe podcast, Azpilicueta has detailed how Tuchel helped bring everybody together at the club, forming a closer bond than the players perhaps had before, and helped the players find their confidence.
“Well, the focus was where we could control, which was the training session to prepare the game, the confidence as well from the whole team. I felt a strong connection, everybody in the group, everybody was involved,” Azpilicueta explained.
“You know, the ones that we were lucky to play a bit more, the ones that they were on the bench. We created that atmosphere that, for myself, I believe it was the success of the season when we ended up winning the Champions League.
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“Even though we missed the FA Cup and we struggled to finish in the top four until the last day, but then to have the opportunity of course, to win the Champions League is a big success.”
The Spaniard also spoke of the switch back to playing three central defenders, after Azpilicueta’s minutes had been marginalised by Lampard’s decision to play a back four – Reece James the main beneficary as he ousted the 33-year-old as first choice right-back.
“With Frank, I was, you know, I was not okay. It was a season where I was used to play every single game in every single competition, even before with Frank, and you know that competition is always welcome,” he said.
“Reece was playing more games, the system we were playing with four at the back, but the season before we were playing with three. So in terms of system, okay we switch a little bit and, you know, Thomas when he arrived, he gave me the confidence, the trust, he believed in myself that I’d be really useful for a team in a back three on the right.
“And of course, you know, as a player, you want to be as much as you can on the pitch. That’s why I train every single time as hard as I can to earn my spot.”
Listen to the Cesar Azpilicueta interview in full in the latest episode of ‘James Richardson’s Kings of Europe’ – the latest podcast from BT Sport Pods out today across major podcast platforms.
Every Monday, journalist James Richardson interviews a Champions League winner from the past 30 years, providing unique insights into some of the biggest moments in European football history: btsport.com/pods