Francesc Fabregas Soler has been one player who has divided opinion among football fans and pundits like no other. From leaving Barcelona for Arsenal and playing for them in the 2006 Champions League final at a tender age or playing as The False 9 for Spain in the Euro 2012 final,Cesc has done it all and won it all. But everything has not gone well for the Catalan in his career,he left Arsenal when they needed him to stay to go back to Barcelona who at that moment had one of the greatest ever midfields ever assembled.
At Barcelona he was never going to replace any of Xavi,Iniesta or Busquets nor was he the heir of Xavi as many people made him to be. Cesc doesn’t have the positional discipline which Xavi has nor can he exert the control on a game like Xavi does with his metronomic passing. At Arsenal,when he first started out, Wenger preferred playing two deep midfielders to shield the defence. Fabregas replaced one of them,but the combination of Viera or Gilberto plus Fabregas was not always successful,it hurt the balance of the team. Wenger ended up switching to 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 so that Fabregas has a free and advanced role. These were the most fruitful years for Cesc as he started racking up assists at a phenomenal rate.
At Chelsea,the brilliant Nemanja Matic combined with the lateral movement of the right winger(Generally Ramires or Willian) has managed to negate this problem so far. But still Fabregas is a liability when he plays as part of the deep two. Gary Neville after Chelsea beat Swansea in late September 4-2 with Fabregas laying on 2 assists,criticised the midfielder’s performance on Monday Night Football.
“You look at Fabregas playing in the midfield with Matic two weeks ago against Burnley and everyone said ‘he controls the game’, and all the reports after the game on Saturday were about the link between Fabregas and Costa,”
“But watching the first half against Swansea it was a real poor performance from Cesc Fabregas in terms of the position he was asked to play.
“When playing as a two in midfield…he does some things you would never, ever do. He hasn’t got the discipline, he follows the ball, he hunts the ball.
“Because his willingness all of the time is to hunt the ball, he gets ahead of the ball which for [Matic] is a no-no.
“Against Manchester City…in Champions League games, you’re done if you allow that space to develop. It’s something they got away with time and time again [against Swansea].
“It was a really bad central midfield performance from a defensive point of view.”(Source)
Fabregas has the natural tendency to move towards the ball,leaving his position. When he plays as the deep 2 in midfield,this leaves the defense exposed. As mentioned earlier,this problem has been negated by the lateral movement of the right winger. For example lets take a look at the average position of the Chelsea players against Manchester City.
Notice Willian’s average position who started on the right,it’s central and is actually is more deeper than Fabregas’ position. This lateral movement from the wings allows Fabregas some freedom to move around.
Against Southampton this season,Fabregas started as the furthest of the three midfielders as Jose started with Matic and Mikel as the double pivot. Fabregas struggled to get into the match as he found little space and time against the deep midfield of Wanayama and Schneiderlin. Also,after Willian came on as a sub,Fabregas had to move left in order to compensate the former’s movement into central midfield. This again limited his ability to influence the game. Oscar who generally plays as the number 10 has perfected this role both for Chelsea and Brazil. This was very evident in Brazil’s Confederations Cup win in 2013 when he frequently covered for Neymar who started out on the left but moves inside to take up advanced central positions.
The game against Tottenham which was perhaps the most surprising result of the season so far,Spurs exploited Chelsea’s left hand side by creating overloads. Eriksen found it easy to bypass Fabregas with his natural tendency to move left. Mourinho has swapped Matic’s and Fabregas’ positions at times this season,but in general Matic plays on the left of the double pivot as Eden Hazard,who plays on the left occupies an advanced position and Matic covers for him defensively. This was another game where Mourinho could have switched the two,but before he could do anything,Spurs had taken the lead and he was forced to switch to a 4-3-3 with Matic as the sole holding midfield player.
Lets compare the stats of Fabregas at Chelsea and Barcelona. Defensively of course Fabregas is doing much more now,with him playing in a much deeper position than at Barca.
But the real difference lies in the below comparison.
Fabregas tends to be a very impatient player generally,someone who wants to play the killer pass as soon as possible. Where as at Barcelona he was not allowed that freedom he craved. His key passes per game has almost doubled playing in a much deeper role than at Barca(Where he most of the time played as a False Nine or as an attacking midfielder). Maybe if he had stayed at Barcelona instead of joining Arsenal in his youth,his style of play would have been different,maybe he could have been the next Xavi. But his formative years at Arsenal were spent in a league where pace and speed of thought are highly priced qualities. Now at Chelsea,he is back in comfortable surroundings,but his defensive deficiencies are still present and only time will tell us whether Fabregas goes on to become a Chelsea great or not.