Cesc Fabregas left Arsenal for his beloved Barcelona but soon after, he realised that time was ticking away and things weren’t really clicking. Last summer the Spaniard moved to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, a move that dripped of betrayal for many Arsenal fans. While we leave behind the off field drama on the touch line, Alok Kulkarni takes a look at how Fabregas has fared in his first year at Stamford Bridge.
Although there have been fifteen more since, the one assist that really stands out in the memory of Chelsea fans is the one he provided at Turf Moor on the opening day of the Premier League season. Cesc Fabregas was looking to make a good first impression on his new set of fans, and boy did he do that. A pass so good it nearly made us forget who scored it. At the start of the season, I looked forward to welcoming Fabregas to the team and as the season draws to a close, I look back at his year and his infamous ‘second-half slump’.
It was a new look Chelsea midfield at the start of the season. A midfield without Frank Lampard’s services for the first time in 11 years. The Chelsea legend had left a huge void and there were doubts if Fabregas was what Chelsea needed. Yet, many of those doubts were laid to rest the moment that pass left Fabregas’ feet and Andre Schurrle duly converted. It looked as though a seamless transition had taken place, a change of guard in midfield and the man they loathed before but grudgingly admired, was to become their new hero.
Clearly, he had a fantastic start to his career at Chelsea. An assist against Arsenal in a 2-0 victory, and he was the cynosure of the Shed End. These were just 2 of the 15 assists he managed in the first half of the season, 8 more than his nearest rival. With some crucial games to come in the business end of the season, Fabregas looked settled enough for a record-breaking season. Or maybe not.
A Cesc Fabregas second-half-of-the-season slump is as sure as Brendan Rodgers saying his team “played well” after a defeat. We will never know what it is about January to April that gets to Cesc, but he seems to go into hibernation.
Since the 2009-10 season, he has been involved (scored and assisted) in 73 goals in the first half versus 26 in the second. Even FC Barcelona’s official website, while saying goodbye to him, mentioned this, “Despite glowing starts to each campaign, Cesc’s contributions to the cause gradually decreased as each season drew to a close”, it read. It has since been deleted from the website. Although it was unheard of for a club to say such things and quite frankly unnecessary, it was the truth.
Fifteen assists in the first punctuated by two important goals and one in the second half and a goal in his first season at Stamford Bridge shows no buck in the trend. Not only the numbers, his standards of performances also seem to have dipped as the season has gone by. Case in point being the game away at Southampton. Even though he had a pass completion rate of more than 85% in that game, he gave the ball away 27 times – more than any other player on the pitch.
The problem for Chelsea, though, has been some equally erratic displays by the Spaniard’s partner in midfield, Nemanja Matic. His quick feet and game awareness – usually his forte – have deserted him recently. The Serb has set such high standards for himself that even one misplaced pass or tackle in a game brings down his numbers. By no means is his case similar to Fabregas’, just that it came at the wrong time for Chelsea.
Yet they sit 13 points clear at the top, largely due to the contribution of the recently crowned PFA Player of The Year, Eden Hazard. The Belgian magician has carried this team on his shoulders in recent games, and it would be difficult to imagine the team in this position without him. His performances in big games against the likes of United, tough away games at St. Mary’s have brought the trophy within touching distance.
Thanks to the caliber of players like Hazard and, in no small part, Willian, Fabregas’ slump in form has been masked – at least for this season. With potentially even more games next season during this period (assuming Chelsea go further in the FA Cup and the Champions League), it will be interesting to see what the Blues have planned.
// Further Reading: Scout Report on Chelsea’s Dom Solanke
The thought of having Hazard injured in the business end next season while Cesc is going through his usual second-half slump is the stuff of nightmares for Chelsea fans. Who will rescue them? Will they even need rescuing next season at this time? Paul Pogba, perhaps? Marco Reus? The answer may lie closer than we think.
Ramires wouldn’t be the first player to spring to mind when it comes to ‘replacing’ Fabregas, but the Brazilian has played his part this season doing just that. His role has been reduced to that of a back up midfielder rather than a sure starter under Jose Mourinho, but Ramires has played it to the hilt. Often deployed in the double-pivot alongside Matic, especially in the big games when Fabregas goes further forward, he has performed quite well in his limited opportunities. A tackle success rate of 88%, passing accuracy of 80% and 4 assists in 22 games in the Premier League makes for good reading. With players such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek waiting in the wings, going out and buying the likes of Pogba or Reus might not make sense, but knowing Chelsea it might very well happen.
In spite of all the talk of a slump, the Spaniard is no less of a world-class player. His 16 assists, 15 accurate through balls, 15 chances created and 2.8 key passes per game are still higher than any other player in the league this season. The defensive side of his game has improved and he is less fearful of going into a tackle – an 81% tackle success rate is testament to that. There is no doubt that, in spite of this slump, Chelsea would rather have him in their team than having to watch him play for another. Throw in the old adage of class being permanent and form temporary, I rest this case for Cesc Fabregas by saying – boy, are we glad to have you on board.
Written by Alok Kulkarni
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- Cesc Fabregas: A Year in Review - May 1, 2015