Why Chelsea’s ideal Cesar Azpilicueta replacement may not be Reece James – Kadeem Simmonds

Cesar Azpilicueta’s 10-year Chelsea stay looks to be winding down.

He’s been a terrific servant to the club and his contributions to multiple European trophy-winning campaigns as well as Premier League title wins cannot be understated.

Whether it be at right-back, right wing-back, left-back, left wing-back or even right centre-back in a back three, Azpilicueta has done it all and never once has he complained.

Though the Spanish defender is not playing at a poor level, at 32 a succession plan must be in place so that when the time does come for him to step aside, there is a player ready in the wings.

Though Reece James immediately springs to mind when it comes to Azpilicueta’s replacement, there may be a better option outside of the club.

Step up Noussair Mazraoui.

Mazraoui looks like the latest breakout star to emerge at Ajax and is glowing brighter with every passing game.

With four goals and three assists from the right-back position already, the Moroccan international is turning heads and attracting a lot of attention from some of the biggest clubs around Europe.

Valued at just £16.2m by Transfermarkt, the 24-year-old looks like he would hit the ground running if he arrived in west London in the January transfer window.

Just like Azpilicueta, Mazraoui’s contract expires next year meaning he will be free to speak to clubs from January. The Blues could put a plan in place where he arrives in the summer and Azpilicueta departs, with the two players crossing paths like two ships in the night.

Alternatively, Marina Granovskaia may choose to put some money on the table when the window opens in a few weeks and steal a march on their rivals.

Chelsea aren’t the only club interested, with Arsenal and Newcastle United also keen to secure his signature, and there are other clubs in the Premier League alone who would love to add a player of his talents to their books.

Reece James has already picked up four Premier League bookings this season. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)
Reece James has been in fine form this season

That may force Chelsea’s hand as they look to get a deal done earlier than expected, but that does have benefits.

A January arrival means he has time to adapt and become acclimatised to the Premier League before being thrown in at the deep end.

It’s something which his fellow Morocco international and former Ajax teammate Hakim Ziyech was never afforded and he could be on his way out after failing to settle at Stamford Bridge.

It will be a mistake Chelsea will be keen to avoid again.

So what would become of the aforementioned James?

The Cobham graduate has taken his game to the next level this season and is arguably the best right-back in the Premier League – there’s a case to be made that there aren’t many in the world let alone Europe playing better football than him at the moment.

Though Chelsea would be foolish to add a player to stunt the 22-year-old’s development, James could easily slot into a central midfield role.

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It’s something he has done in the past while out on loan at Wigan and Blues boss Thomas Tuchel could start to implement James more centrally as time goes on.

It’s not a position that Chelsea find themselves lacking in stars and playmakers but if the German coach can find a way to bring James inside while starting Mazraoui at right-back, Chelsea would be cooking with gas.

Though they can’t immediately replace Azpilicueta’s leadership and versatility, Mazraoui will make up for that with attacking intent and adding another goal threat to an already scary Chelsea side.

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