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Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta played a crucial role in last night's Club World Cup win against Palmeiras when he acted a decoy for mind games - and a detailed Twitter thread has brilliantly explained it all.
Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring for the Blues before Raphael Veiga equalised from 12 yards.
Chelsea’s bench reacting to Kai Havertz penalty 🤩— Felix ⭐️⭐️ (@CFC_Felix_) February 13, 2022
Tell me Romelu Lukaku doesn’t care about Chelsea again 🤣pic.twitter.com/Iv0jyudNlQ
The game went to extra-time and it looked like the final was heading to penalties but in the 115th minute, Chelsea were awarded a spot-kick following a VAR check.
Step forward, club captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who absorbed all of the pressure onto himself before Kai Havertz converted.
Here’s the video of Azpilicueta making everyone believe that he was the one taking the pen including us the fans 😂😭— Ansh - CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE ⭐️⭐️ (@KingNgolo) February 13, 2022
Everyone was losing it at this moment but it was a masterstroke 🙌
CAPTAIN. LEADER. LEGEND #Mycaptain #ChelseaFC #CWC #ClubWorldCupfinal pic.twitter.com/KxEnLBSebB
So how did they do it? And why? You can read the brilliant thread from football psychology researcher Geir Jordet that explains the process below.
A penalty kick is a team performance! For Chelsea's decisive penalty last night, Azpilicueta acted as decoy for Palmeira's mind games, while the real penalty taker, Havertz, quietly prepared his kick in the periphery. Then a last-second switch. How did they do it? And why? 1/9 pic.twitter.com/yeMTvhqXFl— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
When the penalty is secured, after VAR, Azpilicueta seeks eye contact with Havertz. Then he grabs the ball, as if HE is the penalty taker, while remaining in eye contact with Havertz. Azpilicueta draws plenty of attention from the Palmeiras players, while Havertz is ignored. 2/9 pic.twitter.com/V1bH8tTPVB— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
Then, Azplilicueta takes up an early position at the penalty mark, making himself a seemingly stationary and simple target for the Palmeiras players' disruption tactics. They even get a yellow card in the process of trying to disturb him. 3/9 pic.twitter.com/BO3XSypGSJ— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
The reveal. When the referee finally has established control, the Palmeiras players have cooled off and backed away, the time is right. Havertz has been calmly waiting in the back, focusing on his shot, and the ball is now handed over. The switch is successfully made. 4/9 pic.twitter.com/xjr3rleHBf— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
Havertz can now place the ball on the penalty mark without disruptions, continue his focused mental preparation, and ultimately score the penalty kick that wins Chelsea the FIFA Club World Cup. 5/9 pic.twitter.com/RKn5NNsgvc— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
Why did Chelsea do all this? In 2021-2022, many teams take extreme measures to disturb the penalty taker. The referees do what they can to prevent it, but they're typically outnumbered by the defending team who gets to do & say whatever they want to the penalty taker. 6/9 pic.twitter.com/3w9VWRW8Am— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
Palmeiras has shown earlier this season that they can form an intimidating and effective crowd around the ball and the referee, after important penalties and free kicks are given against them. Chelsea obviously did their home work. 7/9 pic.twitter.com/S8YNEeU13Z— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
Chelsea knows this crowding strategy intimately. When penalties are awarded against Chelsea this season, they also swarm around the penalty taker, attempting to get into his head. Here against Salah/Liverpool. Of course they're prepared for others using it against them. 8/9 pic.twitter.com/49ScsxDS1T— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
A counter-measure in these situations is for the penalty taker to wait outside the area & arrive late at the penalty mark - a strategy Salah now employs. Chelsea took it to the next level, by appointing their captain as a decoy penalty taker. Clever. Effective. Beautiful. 9/9 pic.twitter.com/DDfsCnbnp1— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) February 13, 2022
After the full-time whistle, Azpilicueta opened up about his thought process behind being that all-important decoy before Kai Havertz slotted home.
"It was a tactic because I knew how they are, I knew they were coming for the penalty taker, so I took the ball," said the Chelsea skipper.
"Kai knew that he was going to shoot so it was to release the pressure from him. It was a decisive moment and Kai is one of the best penalty takers.
"I waited and listened to everything their players told me, and I think it worked which is the most important thing."
Some have (at times) doubted whether Cesar Azpilicueta was the right man to captain Chelsea, largely because he does it differently to John Terry.— Adam Newson (@AdamNewson) February 13, 2022
But this is one of the truest examples of leadership. He took so much pressure off Havertz in a huge moment.pic.twitter.com/V0BrFbuQ1a
Havertz, meanwhile, confirmed he was feeling the pressure before taking the crucial kick that crowned Chelsea as champions of the world.
“I was [nervous], I was to be honest. I mean it’s a big penalty – just crazy. I think it was good I kept the nerves and very happy,” the German said in his post-match interview.
“I was the third penalty taker. Jorgi and Rom they both were out so I was the only one on the pitch and the other players gave me trust. Hakim, Azpi, everybody they said you do it and I did it.
“I don’t know what to say, I mean I’ve dreamed always of this amazing feeling for me. I’m thankful for everybody, my family, my girlfriend, everyone and yeah just a big thanks to them.”
Featured Image Credit: @GeirJordet/Twitter