Chelsea have been labelled as one of ‘The Contenders’ this season by pundits and fans alike. A major reason is that they’ve had an excellent transfer window, one in which they’ve strengthened the right areas thus seemingly applying finishing touches to Mourinho’s masterpiece. Alok Kulkarni focuses on a particularly aesthetic brush stroke, Cesc Fabregas.
When you break into an Arsene Wenger-led team as a 17-year old and be called the next Patrick Viera, you know you’re good. Cesc Fabregas is exactly that. A world-class midfielder who adds value to any team he plays for. As it turned out, however, that the only team he found difficult to fit in was at his boyhood club FC Barcelona. A rather forgettable three seasons later, the Spanish maestro is back in London – albeit in the west part of it rather than the north.
The fans that saw him take on a newly promoted Burnley side in the opening-day fixture on Monday night knew that he had almost seamlessly transitioned into the Chelsea midfield and ran the show that night. Much like his predecessor and club legend Frank Lampard, he was able to control the tempo of the game from his position in midfield. Although it is still too early to speculate if he will be as successful as Lampard at Stamford Bridge, that one pass to set up Chelsea’s second goal for Andre Schurrle must have rested those doubts somewhat.
Even before he came to Chelsea, there were a lot of doubts about where he would play in the Blues’ midfield. As a 17-year old under Wenger, he started out as a holding midfielder eventually developing into a number ten as he approached the end of his Arsenal days. At Barcelona he was deployed in a variety of midfield roles, sometimes a proper central midfielder while at other times on the left or right side of midfield as well as a false 9 at times. Competing against the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, he struggled to cement a spot. Also, he was a misfit in Pep Guardiola’s plans and was subsequently benched more often than not.
There was noticeable lethargy in Chelsea’s midfield last season. Maybe it was the old legs of Lampard that was an issue or maybe the lack of a proper midfielder who could link the defence to attack, spraying passes for the wide men or the centre forwards. Even when Lampard wasn’t playing, either of Ramires of David Luiz looked out of place in that midfield spot. Fabregas, going by the first two games at least, has bucked that trend from last season. His impeccable vision and distribution of the ball means the likes of Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle will revel in his company. Especially the German, since he is high on confidence at the moment coming off the back of a superb World Cup.
Fabregas’ role therefore this season will be more of a free one in spite of him playing just behind the attacking four of Chelsea (in a 4-2-3-1 formation). That is to say although he is more or less a designated central midfielder, his role will rely on whether his team are on top or are under the cosh. The latter did not happen at Burnley, however, in tougher away matches like those against the big four, one can expect Fabregas to sit deep, controlling the midfield from just behind the number ten position.
What will also help Fabregas is the emergence of Nemanja Matic as a solid, reliable defensive midfielder. With the latter in the team, the former knows that he can join up in attack when needed, safe in the knowledge that the defensive part of the game has been taken care of.
More sense can be made of this when one looks at the heat map from the game at Turf Moor. Not only was his presence felt everywhere in the attacking third, his defensive play in that game also impressed one and all. When he chose to sit deep and help Matic out, he was in and around the centre-circle but when he chose to go up and attack, he was sometimes even ahead of Chelsea’s number ten Oscar.
At Turf Moor, he completed 87% of his passes and also managed to put in 3 tackles and 3 blocks – an area of his game that he has been targeting to improve.
With fellow Spanish International Diego Costa also joining up with him at Chelsea, Fabregas’ work has become, one believes, that much easier. Costa is in the Drogba mould of a striker; in that he draws defenders towards him, thus creating space for Oscar and in turn Fabregas to pass the ball while also allowing full-backs to make overlapping runs to help out the wingers.
At 27 and signing a four-year deal, this appears be the last big move of his career, Chelsea will certainly feel that they have pulled off a transfer coup by getting Fabregas for a relatively small sum of £27 million. All said and done, players like Fabregas, if given time and opportunity, will prove their worth in any team. And judging by his pass to set up Schurrle for that second goal at Burnley, this investment looks like it will be worth every penny.
Written by Alok Kulkarni.
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