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The Problem With Cesc Fabregas At Chelsea

A glance at the current Premier League table reveals an improvement of sorts for Chelsea. Their catastrophic title defense last season resulted in them finishing 10th, while their defense, so renowned for their frugality, shipped 53 goals — more than 15th-place Crystal Palace.

This season, Antonio Conte has been charged with returning Chelsea to their domineering displays of old. The problem for Conte is that Chelsea are nowhere near their peak personnel wise. John Terry, while still a force, will turn 36 in December. 

Gary Cahill is a mainstay but as limited as ever, while Branislav Ivanovic has essentially completed his transformation into a training cone.

With this in mind, it’s understandable as to why Chelsea splashed more than €60 million on David Luiz and Marcos Alonso. However, Chelsea’s defense has still looked suspect this season. They currently sit fifth in the table having accumulated three wins, one draw and only one lose, but an analysis of those games reveals that their record could be drastically different. 

Against West Ham, Watford and Swansea, Chelsea relied on late goals from Diego Costa to salvage positive results. Due to the unfamiliarity and fragility of Chelsea’s back line, Conte has preferred a midfield partnership of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic to protect the Blues’ back four.

Both Kante and Matic have performed their duties with gusto, hurrying and harassing the opponents when they venture into the Chelsea half. However, neither is relied on to provide incisive passing or the cutting edge in the attacking third. 


A look at the passes attempted by both Kante and Matic in Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool reveals their preference for lateral passing. 

Fabregas was brought on for Matic in the 84th minute as Chelsea strove for an equalizer. His play was direct, and his passing incisive.

Fabregas’ Premier League action has been limited to three substitute appearances, generally coming on to replace Matic. 

Against Leicester City in the Football League Cup on Tuesday, Conte countered the tactics of Leicester by employing Fabregas in midfield alongside Matic. Coming up against an opposition that is more than happy to cede position and attack on the counter, the need for two stabilizing midfielders was absent.

Elevated to the starting lineup and given license to orchestrate Chelsea’s attack, Fabregas excelled in the match.   

His linkup play with Eden Hazard gave Chelsea supporters a tantalizing look at an attack oriented setup, one that went on to score four goals in the victory.

This was, however, a false dawn for Fabregas. Fabregas is a sublime player, a world-class playmaker whose international and club success is completely deserved. Unfortunately for him and supporters keen to see attacking football at Chelsea, his display was only made possible by the opposition.

Conte has challenged the 29-year-old to become more defensive minded, asking him to retool the parts of his game which make him exceptional. Basically, Conte is revealing that Fabregas must either equal or surpass Matic or Kante in defensive qualities to merit inclusion in the starting XI. 


Leicester still managed to score two goals against Chelsea, undermining the club’s defensive worries. On Saturday, Chelsea travel to the Emirates to take on Arsenal.

Arsenal are driven by an emphasis on midfield possession. They were brilliant last weekend with Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Mesut Ozil dominating the proceedings.

Fabregas’ display against Leicester merits a weekend start, but Chelsea’s back line necessitates protection, particularly against Arsenal away from home. Don’t be surprised to see Matic and Kante anchor the midfield while Fabregas resumes his role on the bench.

Follow me on Twitter: @ConmanFleming 

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