The Spaniard's tussle with the re-energised Ivorian may go a long way to settling the contest, suggests Alex Keble...
A peculiar tension is building at Chelsea. Though pundits still confidently predict Blues domination this season, the cumulative pressure of dropped points, petulant outbursts, staff feuds and transfer frustration has led to quiet murmurs that we are in the calm before the storm. Jose Mourinho’s third seasons are infamously difficult; have the hallmarks for another gradual demolition begun to appear?
Chelsea’s trip to Manchester City feels particularly important, and provides a fascinating opportunity to assess Cesc Fabregas’s long-term viability in central midfield following another disappointing performance against Swansea. Magnified by the resurgence of Yaya Toure, who embodies the strength and domineering presence Mourinho’s midfield craves, Fabregas’s head-to-head with the Ivorian could have dramatic implications on this match - and the season as a whole.
Cesc is undoubtedly a world-class playmaker, but his occasional ball-watching and positional wanders are increasingly leaving Chelsea with a soft centre. Last Saturday he was at fault for four Swans chances, most notably ahead of the penalty incident by allowing Jonjo Shelvey to play the pass to Batefimbi Gomis.
Fabregas was jogging back 10 yards out of position when Swansea broke forward at Stamford Bridge, forcing Blues captain John Terry to take himself out of the game with a sliding challenge. As the ball reached Shelvey, Fabregas failed to apply pressure and prevent the through-ball. It may seem like a minor detail, but the work rate expected of top level central midfielders is simply not attained by the Spaniard.
Against a trio of exceptional Swansea players, Fabregas’s defensive contribution was not good enough.
His ability to remain focused and positionally disciplined will be tested by Toure, who swept aside the listless figure of 2014/15 with a commanding display at The Hawthorns. Toure had 91 touches of the ball, completed 83 of 86 passes and scored twice in a performance that reignited Man City’s title ambitions.
Nemanja Matic, typically given tight marking duties against key playmakers, will be preoccupied with the movement of David Silva. From the right side of midfield, Fabregas must display the strength and bravery to confront Toure and prevent Raheem Sterling from cutting inside. It will be a stern test, and should provide Mourinho with a definitive answer on a midfielder dismissed from Barcelona for his positional indiscipline. Before the dissenters pipe up, Chelsea need a positive result. It may be up to Fabregas to provide it.