The Spanish defender turns 30 on the 28th of August and is starting to age out as more is demanded from full backs. Azpi has been a consistent performer for the Blues since joining from Marseille in the summer of 2012. Apart from being strong defensively, it’s difficult to see what he is good at as he is just really good at being a defender. This makes finding a replacement difficult.
During 2018/19 under Sarri, everyone passed a lot with César being no exception. In that season he averaged 65.7 passes per 90 which is is a lot for a right back. However, in Conte’s last season in charge, Azpilicueta averaged 74.6 passes as he played as one of three central defenders. In that same season he averaged 3.4 accurate long balls with a success rate of just under 50% which isn’t spectacular. This shows how important he is to his side’s build up play despite not being a great distributor. The Spaniard isn’t overly attacking either. He has never averaged more than 0.3 successful dribbles or 1 key pass per 90 This shows he is the more defensive full back that gives the opposite full back the freedom to attack more.
That being said, when the ball is on the floor he is very solid. Over his career he has averaged 2.1 interceptions and 2.9 tackles, this is near the top end. During this time, he has averaged a success rate of 78.4% which is again near the top end for a full back. Despite all this, he rarely fouls. At Chelsea the Spaniard has never averaged more than 1.2 fouls per 90. He has only received one red and 22 yellow cards in 238 Premier League appearances. According to the Premier League website he has 0 errors leading to a goal. Over the last four Premier League seasons, the former Marseille man has missed 2 games as he has been ever present. All this shows he is an intelligent and reliable defender, something he has become synonymous with.
At Chelsea they have Reece James returning from injury and he is expected to take over from Azpi as he enters his twilight years. Reece is sure to be a success at Stamford Bridge especially after gaining plaudits for his defensive performances and attacking nous whilst on loan at Wigan. If Reece doesn’t get brought into the first team then Chelsea would have to get a replacement in.
My pick for the Azpilicueta replacement if James isn’t good enough is Nordi Mukiele. Sofiane Alakouch from Nîmes was an option as he lined up well with César in the things he struggles at whilst being defensively solid and versatile or Max Aarons from Norwich as Frank Lampard is trying to use young English talent. However, Nordi Mukiele looks to be the best option.
Nordi joined Leipzig from Montpellier in 2018. The right back is 6’1” and can also play at centre back which draws parallels to Azpilicueta in his versatility. During 2018/19, the 21-year-old only clocked up 1227 Bundesliga minutes out of a possible 3060 minutes under Ralf Ragnick. These minutes were shared nearly evenly between centre back and right back. The lack of game time isn’t his fault but down to a lot of competition at centre back and right back. Despite getting minutes at centre back, Mukiele does look more of a full back or a wide centre back in a back three or in a back five. The French man is extremely quick despite being quite tall, very good at defending out wide and using the touchline as another defender. He looks to be an ideal replacement for César Azpilicueta.
During 2018/19, Nordi averaged 1.8 interceptions per 90, only Upamecano and Konaté averaged more for RB Leipzig. For tackles, Mukiele was also third for tackles per 90 with 2.8 but has an obscene success rate of 93%, the same success rate as Aaron Wan-Bissaka. On the off chance the former Montpellier man is beaten, like Wan-Bissaka, he is incredibly fast and can get back into position. Nordi Mukiele has an aerial rate of 57% which isn’t great especially for a centre back, but it is near enough the same as Azpi’s 58%. However aerial success rate is something that tends to improve with age as players bulk out more and get more experience.
Like Azpilicueta, Nordi Mukiele’s passing is strong. For Leipzig he averaged 43 passes per 90 but in the first game of the 2019/20 season, he led the team for passes. Nordi completed 94 passes and the next best was 76 as RB Leipzig ran out 4-0 winners. In the same game, only the goalkeeper completed more long balls as the Frenchman completed the 6 of the 8 he attempted. Despite the passing excellence, he didn’t let up defensively. Mukiele completed 5 interceptions and 2 tackles which rounds off the outrageous game he had.
As promising as these defensive numbers are, he can offer a lot going forward. As he played about half of his minutes at centre back, you’d expect his offensive numbers to be lower, but they were still very good. He still had a key pass and 1.3 dribbles per 90, better than Azpilicueta at his best.
RB Leipzig aren’t great at selling players, the fee for Naby Keïta felt really low at the time at around £60 million, Leipzig have a lot of talent at centre back and right back as well as the German club are very good at finding unearthed diamonds. All of this considered, if Chelsea went for Mukiele, he wouldn’t cost as much as people would think and the Blues could get 10 years of service from him.
Luka turns 34-years-old in September and is still a mainstay in the Real Madrid side. Despite being crowned at the worst La Liga signing in 2012 in a poll by Marca in which Modrić won over 30% over the votes, the Croatian has won four Champions Leagues in Madrid. As well as success with Real Madrid, he led Croatia to the World Cup final in 2018 and won the Ballon d’Or later that year.
Modrić is good at everything in the central of midfield and has been for the last five years. When it comes to discipline, Luka is very good. During 2018/19, he got his first La Liga red card which was an accidental stud so was unlucky to get it. None the less, from the central of midfield to have one red card in around 15,000 La Liga minutes is not bad especially when he does a lot of defensive work. Since 2009/10, the Croatian has averaged 3.2 tackles and interceptions per 90 but obviously this is in decline due to his age.
He is also very good going forward, he ranked seventh for midfielders in La Liga for dribbles and was fouled 1.4 times per 90 during 2018/19. With Kroos and Casemiro, Real Madrid has their best midfield for a very long time which at the time was perfect but has become a problem. The problem with their golden generation was they have found it hard to move on from them and with Modrić lost a lot of mobility and Kroos never being mobile, they’re causing more issues than they are solving.
Obviously Real Madrid have the replacement already in Dani Ceballos. However, with Zidane looking like he doesn’t like him, they might have to buy a replacement for the Ballon d’Or winner. Real Madrid missed out on Ndombele and Lo Celso which would also be great replacements especially the latter but there is still someone who can fulfil that role, Fabián Ruiz.
Ruiz got nine goal involvements for Napoli in 2018/19, the same as he got for Real Betis the season before. Although this doesn’t sound amazing Modrić got the same for Real Madrid in 2018/19 and that was his best return of his career. In 2018/19, Ruiz created 2.8 chances per 90 and took 2.3 shots whilst completing 2.8 tackles and interceptions. At Real Betis the year before, he was a bit further back and completed 3.6 tackles and interceptions whilst at the under-21 Euros with Spain, Fabián played as a number 6. This all shows his versatility within the midfield and an excellent all-round game, like Ceballos and Modrić, and this is without showing his great dribble and passing numbers which are both essential in replacing Modrić. Ruiz averaged about 12 deep progressions per 90 for Napoli, this is around 2 more than Modrić who is regarded as one of the best in the world for deep progressions.
Houssem Aouar is also very similar stylistically to Modrić however he likes to drift out wide to the left. This is an issue as although he won’t get in the way of Hazard or Vinícius, but with Madrid’s left back pushing up very high with Marcelo or his replacement, Mendy, who will be asked to fulfil Marcelo’s attacking output, there won’t be the space on the left in their attacking third.
He isn’t on the same level as Modrić or Azpilicueta, but he is still an essential player to Leicester. The Midlands club have spent over £80 million on replacements for Vardy which include Slimani, Iheanacho and Ayoze Pérez but they need to get it right this time. Vardy is a difficult player to replace due to his goalscoring record, his crucial goals and movement.
Vardy is 32 years old and relies on his movement and pace to get into his positions to get away shots so will need to be fazed out of the team sooner rather than later. The Englishmen doesn’t take a lot of shots, only 2.6 shots per 90 but they are in very good areas. Of his 79 shots during 2018/19, 5 of them came from outside the box. Vardy plays off the shoulder of the defenders which is horrific against highlines, like the top six do.
Cucho Hernández is an option to replace the veteran striker. He is 20-year-old and is currently on loan at Mallorca in La Liga. In his two-year loan spell at Huesca he netted 19 in 60 which did include games in the second division of Spain as well as their relegation campaign from the topflight. Like Vardy, Cucho has a little bit of a vicious side to him that Leicester fans enjoy about Vardy.
2018/19 was his first taste of topflight football and he impressed despite Huesca being relegated. The Colombian played 2171 minutes but only scored 4 and assisted 3. However, he had an xG of 10.61 and an xA of 4.56 which shows his real talents. This gives the Watford man 0.63 expected goal involvements per 90 for a side that only scored 43 goals. Hernández had an xG of 0.44 per 90 whilst Vardy had an xG of 0.47 per 90 in 2018/19 which shows similarities in their quality of chances they get through movement.
Cucho averaged 13 pressures per 90, although that is average for a pressing forward. However, Huesca were very defensive and passive which led to Cucho doing it by himself. This will improve at Leicester and under Brendan Rodgers as Leicester look to be on the front foot in games. The man on loan at Mallorca averaged 3.3 shots per 90 in La Liga with one of those coming from outside the box. The shot location will have to improve if he were to replace Vardy and with better creators behind him such as Maddison, Tielemans and Praet, this would improve.
At 20-years-old, Cucho won’t be demanding a starting place straight away and can be bedded in whilst Vardy is being fazed out. Watford were asking for around £22 million which is a low fee for a good risk as Hernández as worst case scenario, he is sold back to Spain for £20 million.