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Why Pavard could be the ideal replacement for Azpilicueta at Chelsea

Posted on August 03, 2022

At the moment, it seems any centre-back linked with a move to Chelsea is immediately courted by another European rival. Barcelona swooped in to sign long-term target Jules Kounde last week, while Milan Skriniar, another reportedly on the Blues' radar, is now being courted by PSG.

Wesley Fofana is also wanted by Chelsea, but PSG are believed to have made their interest in the Frenchman known. With centre-back a priority position for Chelsea, that Kalidou Koulibaly is the only one to have arrived this summer doesn't make for great reading. They can ill-afford to see out the summer window with just Koulibaly replacing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen following their respective moves to Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Given the concerns over Cesar Azpilicueta's future at Stamford Bridge, the Spain international also linked with a summer move to Barcelona, Chelsea still need new defenders through the door. One that is comfortable playing the right centre-back role and at right-back to ease Azpilicueta's potential departure is vital, with Benjamin Pavard emerging as a potential addition.

The Frenchman's future at Bayern Munich has been called into question following the summer arrivals of Noussair Mazraoui and Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax and Juventus, respectively, the latter another Chelsea missed out on. De Ligt's signing is cover for Niklas Sule's departure for Borussia Dortmund, but even so; there is now increased competition for Pavard in defence.

As a result, Bayern are reportedly prepared to listen to offers for Pavard, and that would help Chelsea were they to firm up their interest in the France international. The 2018 World Cup winner has been a solid if unspectacular performer for Bayern on the back of his 2019 arrival from fellow Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart. His attacking influence may have lessened following a fine debut season return that saw him score four and provide four assists, yet crucially he remains a tough player to get the better of.

Across 25 league outings last season, Pavard was dribbled past just 10 times at a rate of 0.4 times per 90, though part of that could be down to Bayern's dominance in the Bundesliga. Nevertheless, even when opponents do seek to carry the ball past Pavard, more often than not they fail in their quest.

By comparison, Azpilicueta was dribbled past at a rate of 0.8 times per 90 in the Premier League last season, a decent enough return all things considered, yet now 32 years of age, Chelsea do need to prepare for life after the Spain international. Barcelona remain keen on Azpilicueta, even if they have little more than agitate Chelsea this summer by stealing the signings of Raphinha and Kounde from under their nose.

Nevertheless, with a year left to run on his current contract, an option triggered earlier this year that meant he was unable to leave on a free this summer, Chelsea are aware they need to cash in on the versatile defender this summer on lose him for nothing in 12 months' time. As a potential successor for Azpilicueta, Pavard would be a solid fit in a key role that wouldn't impact Chelsea's overall defensive game.

Pavard chipped in with respectable averages of 1.5 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per 90 in the Premier League last season, but it's his distribution that would stand him in good stead. As is known, Tuchel demands his defenders help instigate attacks from defence, spreading the ball to the wing-backs to stretch opponents. Pavard's pass success rate of 88.1% was the fourth best of Bayern regulars in the Bundesliga last season, that coming from an average of 83.4 passes per 90, that ranking fifth for the Bavarian powerhouse, and his ability to pick out a teammate with ease would suit the Blues.

Impressively still is that Pavard was willing to get the ball forward to help his team transition to attack. 37.8% of his passes went forward, admittedly, a number helped by Pavard playing right-back, but even so; playing at right centre-back would allow Chelsea to get the ball upfield to their most important wide outlets - in this case, it will be Reece James down the Blues right - to do the damage in the final third.

James made more key passes from open play (42) than any other Blues player in the Premier League last season, this despite the 22-year-old starting just 22 league matches last season. A defender of Pavard's ball playing ability would certainly help get James in possession as frequently as possible.

With less than a month to go until the transfer window closes, Chelsea are set to be active in the market to bolster the squad. Links with moves for the likes Fofana and Skriniar to play as that right sided centre-backs shouldn't come as a shock, with but Bayern well stocked at right-back and centre-back, Pavard could be viewed as the cost-effective option to ease Azpilicueta's exit.