Why Fabregas's Saints display is epitomising Chelsea's current predicament
It’s harsh to single out an individual player when the entire team is playing poorly, but if anyone personifies Chelsea’s sudden drop in form, it’s Cesc Fabregas. This time last year he was racking up ludicrous assist statistics while also dominating matches from his deep-lying midfield role, and appeared the signing of the season. At the moment, nothing is going right.
Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Southampton was another example of his struggles. His passing was wayward, his positioning without the ball poor, and his work rate questionable too. Part of a double pivot in midfield alongside Ramires, Chelsea simply failed to command the centre of the pitch.
Fabregas excelled last year when fielded alongside the strong, reliable Nemanja Matic, whereas Ramires is a naturally energetic player who storms forward into attack, and therefore the combination never looked solid. The ease with which Steven Davis ran off them for Southampton’s equaliser was alarming, and perhaps why Mourinho sacrificed Ramires and introduced Matic at half-time. Embarrassingly, though, Matic only lasted until the 73rd minute before being replaced by Loic Remy as Chelsea pushed for goals. In fairness, Fabregas didn’t look any more comfortable during that period alongside the Serbian either.
Easy does it
In recent weeks, it's felt like Fabregas has been trying too hard in the final third. He’s always been a player determined to make the killer pass, but last season he sometimes offloaded simple balls to Eden Hazard, who would dribble past opponents and make things happen.
In recent weeks, it's felt like Fabregas has been trying too hard in the final third
With the Belgian off form, that’s no longer such a promising approach – although with Diego Costa and now Radamel Falcao failing to impress up top too, most of Fabregas’s through balls fail to find their intended target.
On Saturday, Fabregas was perfectly good at distributing safe balls in the centre of midfield, but his distribution in the final third was very poor. He continually conceded possession, and Southampton were able to launch counter-attacks immediately.
Although Fabregas created two chances, these were both in the period when Chelsea were ahead in the game. When Southampton equalised and became a little more defensive, the 28-year-old simply failed to exert any influence, and it’s not unfair to suggest his head went down too. More than anyone, he should have been Chelsea’s driving force – instead, he went missing.
A noticeable knock-on effect was that John Terry and Gary Cahill weren’t too keen to play the ball into Fabregas, and instead hit an unusual number of long passes into the attack. Overall, 18 of their 90 balls went astray, and Terry’s completion rate was particularly low. Usually he’s extremely safe with the ball at his feet, and his technical quality in this respect has often been overlooked. On Saturday, though, it felt like there was no harmony between the different sections of the side, with the defence not trusting the midfield to create chances, and the midfield showing little interest in protecting the beleaguered backline.
Time for change
Part of the problem, arguably, is that Fabregas isn’t the type of player you want in a struggling team. At the moment Chelsea need discipline, structure and players simply doing their jobs, but Fabregas has always worked somewhat outside a team’s overall tactical approach, roaming around the pitch as he pleases.
That’s justifiable if he records assist statistics like last season but this year he’s only created one goal, a free-kick for Kurt Zouma’s header against Arsenal.
Mourinho is dropping players almost ceremoniously at the moment, and in truth he doesn’t have a particularly large squad.
That might mean Fabregas keeps his place, but at the moment he could do with a spell on the sidelines, and Chelsea might benefit from a more functional player in his place.