At this point last season, Cesc Fabregas had made just two Premier League starts for Chelsea, seemingly only drifting further away from the fulcrum of Antonio Conte’s plans. The switch to 3-4-3 certainly didn’t help the Spaniard’s cause initially, but there appeared to be a deeper-lying discord between the playmaker and the Blues’ new manager.
But they often say class is permanent in football, and Fabregas provides the perfect case in point. His undeniable technical quality soon made him one of Conte’s preferred options from the bench last term, often changing games with Fabregas’ ability to keep possession, and later in the campaign one of his preferred options just behind Diego Costa in attack.
Fast forward to 2017/18, and Conte has even altered last year’s game plan to find a more natural role for Fabregas in his starting XI. While the focus of the switch to 3-5-2 has undoubtedly been deploying Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard as a strike partnership, it’s facilitated for Fabregas in the engine room as well – and appears to be getting the best out of the World Cup winner.
That was evident last night as Chelsea found themselves unlucky not to claim a win over Atletico Madrid in a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge that had the former Arsenal man at its beating heart. Indeed, Fabregas laid on a staggering six chances for his team-mates, none of which were converted and none of which were better opportunities than his pass through a crowd of Atletico defenders into Morata’s path. Unfortunately, Jan Oblak stood in the striker’s way.
Further telling of how influential Fabregas was, he also provided the most crosses and had the second-most touches of the ball of any Chelsea player, while completing 89% of his passes – not an easy task when so many balls forward are made in the hope of creating something. In twelve months, Fabregas has gone from being a forgotten man in west London to one of the first names on Conte’s team sheet.