Here’s a look at a transfer that shocked many: and how the acquisition of Cesc Fabregas could be pivotal to Chelsea’s title bid.
A month away from the end of the transfer window and there has not been an awful lot of absolutely shocking signings, with most clubs acquiring their long-term targets effectively.
One signing however, stands out among all the comings and goings of the market. Cesc Fabregas – for as long as he has been around – a perennial rival of Chelsea. Being hurled celery at and having scuffles with Frank Lampard over the years – Fabregas now finds himself as an on-field replacement for that very player he once grabbed by the neck in the popularly-dubbed Snarling Cup final of 2007.
His signing has received a mixed response from the Chelsea faithful. Some are stubborn in their stand of not accepting him as anything remotely associated with Chelsea, some are delighted they have signed a quality player and some, just find it a fantastic opportunity to get some back at Arsenal fans. However the fans have seen it, the fact that Jose Mourinho missed his own son’s final to convince the ex-Arsenal captain into moving to the blue side of London means the manager is thoroughly convinced that regardless of previous loyalties, Fabregas is a player whose qualities Chelsea could immensely benefit from.
Chelsea were 7 points clear at the top of the league last season at one point, but a host of poor results vs teams from the lower half of the league, such as Palace, Sunderland and Aston Villa and they had to be satisfied with a 3rd place finish. Transitional team or not, Chelsea did have perhaps just a finger on the Premier League trophy and it was their own shortcomings that caused their downfall.
The paradox of Chelsea last season was that they frustrated the top teams by defending in a compact system and hitting them on the counter, and on the other hand, teams like Palace used this to their strength against Chelsea themselves and they found themselves in the same predicament they had subjected their own opponents too. Given the possession, Chelsea were poor in penetrating opposition defence and too often, depended on a moment of magic from Eden Hazard to win them matches.
Those two observations was a consequence of the lack of creativity deep in midfield for the Blues. Frank Lampard was perhaps, the one midfielder who attempted to play long balls out to the likes of Oscar, Willian and Hazard, but he was running on time-worn legs and did not have the sharpness of years gone by. It is not particularly surprising that some of Hazard’s best finishes and performances last season came as a result of an innate understanding on field with Frank Lampard – the most notable being Sunderland away. David Luiz perhaps had the creativity in him but too often, went for the absolute spectacular and though he offered dynamism, he did not have the composure on the ball to play it out well. Ramires is not a creative passer – very simply put; he is a workhorse and does not have the first touch required for the position.
While Nemanja Matic has certainly been positive in his passing and even assisted a few times, his role as a defensive midfielder means he primarily needs to shield the defence and to expect him to set up goals consistently would be quite the ask, given Chelsea typically play a two-man-pivot.
This is where Cesc Fabregas can be invaluable to this Chelsea side. There is little doubt Fabregas is a fantastic passer of the ball, especially from deep central midfield positions – he has already proven it time and time again at Arsenal, with his immaculate vision and the capability to execute it.
With the lack of real ball play from the pivot last season, Hazard often had to drop especially deep to retrieve the ball and attack the defence. Fabregas’ presence however means that the Belgian can stay higher up the pitch now – as can the winger on the other side, a place still up for grabs between Willian and World Cup winner Schurrle. The La Masia graduate loves playing perfectly weighted lofted balls up and over the opposition defence and with willing runners in the aforementioned wingers, this should help Chelsea in breaking tight defences.
Fabregas – expected to partner Nemanja Matic in the pivot – and his preference of playing from deep means that when the ball goes out to Fabregas, the opposition defence should ideally push up slightly and out of their own box and what this does is create spaces that the former Barcelona man can pick to play in one of his teammates.
In addition to that, Fabregas – who is still only 27 but it feels like he has been around forever – has a fantastic set piece on him, which is something Chelsea terribly terribly missed last season: a story of corners that couldn’t clear the first man and freekicks that only had two destinations most of the time: Row Z or the midriff of one of the players in the wall. Fabregas had corner duties and freekick duties at Arsenal, though when he played, van Persie would take corners on the right side. Especially with players such Diego Costa, Didier Drogba, Gary Cahill and John Terry who can finish emphatically from set pieces, the improvement of the quality of set pieces should definitely signal an upward trend in the number of goals Chelsea score.
In the two appearances he has for Chelsea so far in the friendlies, Fabregas is already proving to be an influential player on pitch – though more so from the deeper position he held vs Olimpija Ljubljana than in the #10 position he played vs Vitesse. He played a host of delightful balls in the first match and the fact that the assist for Costa’s goal came from him bodes as no surprise. This is a combination Chelsea fans should look forward to in the coming season, with the two Spaniards already building a good on-field understanding, though some delightful linkups between Hazard and Fabregas are expected too.
There is a drawback to Fabregas playing in the pivot, which is that defensively, he is not perhaps the best of midfielders and does not have an awful lot of pace on him. He can put in decent tackles and bomb forward occasionally but it is hard to see Jose Mourinho sticking with Fabregas in the pivot throughout the season. However, as the second half vs Olimpija showed, it is possible that a 4-3-3 can be played, with one of van Ginkel or Ramires coming in to offer more protection. For the most part though, a Fabregas-Matic pivot coupled with the work rate and tackling of Oscar should be enough to get the team past most opponents.
Arsenal fans might not like seeing Fabregas in colours other than their own, but playing in the Premier League again was a chance Fabregas could simply not turn down; the Premier League would very much like having a player like Fabregas back.
“My ambitions? My ambitions are to win absolutely everything.” said the Spaniard – English still very much fluent – in his first Chelsea interview and if Chelsea are to win absolutely everything, it does look likely that Cesc Fabregas will be a central figure in proceedings.