Chelsea’s need for Cesc Fabregas, or a player like the Spaniard, is most telling during low-key games where the stakes aren’t as high.
Jose Mourinho ditched Juan Mata at the start of last season, permanently discarding him in a deal that sent the midfielder to Manchester United in January. The lack of Mata’s presence in the Chelsea team became something with which to beat Mourinho over the head for a lack of adventure and ingenuity in the final third. Quite plainly, the player chosen to take on Mata’s responsibility in the No.10 role, Oscar, hasn’t performed. Considering the Brazilian’s defensive work and technical quality, he’d be far more suited to a position further back in midfield.
Chelsea’s record in big league games last season was impeccable. They won away at Liverpool and Manchester City with performances typical of a Mourinho team, and while the style of football wasn’t to everyone’s liking, they were both expert performances for what they were.
But in games such as those, Chelsea aren’t leaning on attacking invention, rather looking to frustrate the opposition and wait for opportunities to capitalise. There is a lot of truth that Fabregas doesn’t exactly fit that style of play, which is largely what led to Mata’s sale midway through last season. Tracking back and defensive work on the whole are not common traits of either Spaniard’s game.
The problem, and one which was decisive in Chelsea not winning league title when most tipped them as favourites, was their inability to win the lesser games, either early on or outright. Mourinho may have bemoaned the lack of quality at centre-forward, but the principle issue was the complete absence of a creative individual who could carve open an opposition defence.
Fabregas will of course address that problem. With Diego Costa set to arrive at Chelsea at some stage this summer, the sensible thing would be to pair the striker with a midfielder who can set him through on goal. The Chelsea of last season looked bereft of ideas at times, a problem raised through Mourinho’s prioritising of defensive work rate over, well, Mata.
Off the bat, Fabregas doesn’t appear the kind of player Mourinho would look to in helping to reshape the squad at Stamford Bridge, but for a club who have been shrewd workers in the market over the past six months, Fabregas at circa £30 million would be considered another fantastic piece of business, whether or not he fills every requirement of a Mourinho player.
But it should also be remembered that part of the reason Fabregas is being moved on by Barcelona is due to his inability to find a regular place in the centre of midfield at the Camp Nou. Fabregas has not become the heir to Xavi, as most predicted, and he was at times criticised for being too direct in a team who are known for over-elaboration.
In a team who are set up to counterattack, Fabregas is the perfect player to have in midfield. Willian, Eden Hazard and Costa are all quick, so it makes sense to have someone like Fabregas who can help those three attackers exploit space in behind. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to assume Mourinho has completely neglected the importance of a playmaker like Fabregas.
If this deal comes off – and provided Costa joins Fabregas at Stamford Bridge this summer – Chelsea would certainly have the most balanced team in the Premier League. Setting up in a 4-3-3, which Mourinho opted for at times with David Luiz moving into the middle of the park, Chelsea would have the perfect blend of defensive steel with Nemanja Matic shielding the back four and Fabregas dictating play and launching attacks.
Fabregas doesn’t fit the mould of player Mourinho usually favours, but with a little thought, it’s easy to see how the Spaniard could be a success at Chelsea and why the club are looking to add a player of his qualities.