Azpilicueta to Barcelona closer than ever as Catalans emerge clear favourites for defender’s signature

Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta is ready to call time on his 10-year Stamford Bridge career and move back home to Spain to play for Barcelona, according to latest reports.

The rumours have been making the rounds for most of the season but the latest iteration of events now explicitly claim that Barcelona will most likely sign the 32-year-old defender on a free transfer next summer.

Azpilicueta arrived in England in 2012 for just £6.5 million as a right-back but found and cemented his place in the Chelsea squad as a left-back.

He has been a key part of the Blues’ squad since then, playing a total of 448 games across all competitions for the Blues, and being only the fourth Chelsea player to hit 300 Premier League appearances.

He has won two Premier League titles, two Europa League titles, three FA Cup titles, the EFL Cup, the UEFA Champions League, and the UEFA Super Cup in his time at the Bridge, and all that looks to be over now.

ESPN now reports that Barcelona are leading the race for his signature as the defender looks at a return back to his homeland to wind down the remaining years of his career. Atlético de Madrid are also understood to be interested.

Talks between player and club a key reason for current situation

Chelsea have had it bad with contract talks this season as their four main defensive options all have expiring contracts in the summer. Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen all have contracts expiring in June.

There is still time for the club to sort out these contracts but as is the case with all the others, talks between Azpilicueta and Chelsea remain “active” but no progress seems to be made.

The reported reason for the lack of progress between Azpilicueta’s entourage and Chelsea in their contract talks is the defender’s preferred contract extension length alongside a guarantee for more game time with the Blues.

The defender remains a key part of Chelsea’s set up, is loved by manager Thomas Tuchel, the dressing room and the fans, but has seen his spot in the starting line-up usurped by Reece James.

He has also lost his place in Tuchel’s preferred back-three formation to Andreas Christensen, and the lack of game time is giving the defender cause for worry as he prepares to represent Spain at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Although preferring to stay at the club, the 32-year-old is still believed to be keen on taking on a fresh challenge at this stage of his career and his entourage is currently exploring offers which he will be free to scrutinise in the January transfer window

The defender will cost Barcelona a lot less than their preferred first choice left-back, Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya. His experience in European competitions will also come in handy as the Catalans seek to return to being European royalty in the coming seasons.

New transfer target emerges for Chelsea

Elsewhere, AC Milan’s Franck Kessie has emerged as a new transfer target for Chelsea.

The Serie A club recently threw their hat in the ring for Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen who could be leaving Chelsea this summer as they seek to reinforce their shaky defence following the long-term injury to key centreback, Simon Kjaer.

AC Milan have already taken Fikayo Tomori off Chelsea’s hands and both clubs have a cordial relationship. Chelsea now look to be targeting wantaway midfielder Kessie to shore up their midfield.

Chelsea want to use the relationship with AC Milan as well as their interest in Rudiger and Christensen to pull off the deal.

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