The Blues boss regards his Spain international as a perfect fit in his new role since he was moved into the centre of defence in a 3-4-3 formation.
Antonio Conte believes that Cesar Azpilicueta is thriving in a new role on the right-hand side of Chelsea’s three-man defence, after the club kept five clean sheets in their last five games.
Azpilicueta came to prominence as a full-back, but has been deployed in a fresh position alongside David Luiz and Gary Cahill in a 3-4-3 formation as Chelsea have returned to form.
And Conte has welcomed the opportunity to heap pariase on his unsung hero as Chelsea prepare for a trip to the Riverside Stadium to face Middlesbrough in the Premier League.
“Azpi is a fantastic player,” Conte told a news conference at Cobham Training Centre. “Because he can play different roles. But I think the role that he’s playing now is perfect for him.
“He’s playing very well, because he’s fast, he has good technique, good positioning. He’s a clever player. He can play in different roles, but this role I think is perfect for him.”
Chelsea’s run of clean sheets has led to five wins in a row and they are able to go top of the table if they defeat Boro, after Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Southampton on Saturday.
However, Conte’s side looked a long way from challenging for the title in September after a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal left doubts over Chelsea’s defence – with the Blues boss admitting his surprise at how quickly his side have taken to his new tactics.
“I’m surprised at the speed they learned,” he added. “It’s not the same to play with four defenders and to play with three defenders. But the first two weeks we worked a lot, above all the first week because we changed it after Arsenal, before Hull City.
“Then there was the international break. Then we started to work very hard to find the right line of passes. The message was very clear. When you arrive at the point where every game you concede goals and chances, you have to change something.
“I try to change it to give more balance offensively and defensively. This happened. Also because I see that the players enjoy this type of football, this system. Every single player has his quality in this system.”