Since Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have always featured in the 4-2-3-1 formation with two midfielders working in a defensive pivot, shielding the back four.
Jose tried all the possible combinations with the likes of Lampard, Mikel and Ramires in the pivot, but it was to no avail. The arrival of Matic in January should have supposedly given Mourinho more options in that position. But, unfortunately, none of these combinations worked. The Matic and Mikel combination was probably better than the others at that time given that both the players are known to break up play and regain possession. The reason behind these unsuccessful combinations was the lack of fluidity while transitioning from defense to attack. Mourinho needed a formidable replacement as this was one of the reasons why Chelsea were ineffective in midfield. He decided to bring in Cesc Fabregas and the rest, as they say, is history!
Last season, Chelsea were criticized for not being able to penetrate the so-called lesser teams that defended deep inside their territory. We signed Fabregas to solve this issue and solve the issue he did indeed! The Spaniard started the current season with a bang and has registered 18 assists to his name, three shy of the all-time record. While his numbers are very impressive, his passion on the field has attracted many admirers from the West London faithful. With him on the field, Chelsea have been able to retain possession better. His excellent range of passing and stellar vision has restored fluidity to the Chelsea attack, in turn, making him a valuable asset to the club. He is the kind of player who can split defenses with a pass and hand goals to forwards on a silver platter. One such example was his exquisite lob pass to Diego Costa against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge this season. The addition of Fabregas has encouraged Chelsea to apply minor tweaks to the double pivot system. Matic still sits back and helps out in defense while Fabregas acts as “bridge” between the defense and offense. Though it is still called a 4-2-3-1 formation, Fabregas is more of an attack-minded midfielder and plays slightly ahead of Matic in the pivot. This formation has worked like a charm for Chelsea as they been at the top of Premier League since day one.
Fabregas: The Infamous Second Half of the Season Slump
A recommendation letter from Barcelona during Fabregas’ departure said, “Despite glowing starts to each campaign, Cesc’s contributions to the cause gradually decreased as each season drew to a close”. Not a glowing one eh? It may be harsh on the Spaniard’s part, but it is a fact that we cannot overlook.
Since 09/10 season, he has been involved in 73 goals in the first half of the season as compared to just 28 in the second half. This season, he recorded 15 assists in the first half but managed to grab only 2 assists in the second half. It’s hard to imagine why such a brilliant footballer tends to suffer from such a drastic dip in form. He was well on track to beat Henry’s record of 20 assists this season but now it seems too far away. Mourinho was quick to jump to his defense by saying he was not assisting since our strikers were not scoring. It may be the truth, but his previous record does not back him up.
Should Chelsea find a player of his caliber and replace him considering his second half of the season slump? The answer is no. Off course the slump is an issue, but there are only few players that can match him when he is in form. What Chelsea can do now is to provide a certain environment for Fabregas to excel. The former Barcelona man’s style of play depends on the players around him, who can run into space and expect a pass. He has an excellent range of passing and brilliant awareness. If he can combine with players who can make darting runs into the box, there is simply no stopping the Spaniard.
In the match against Burnley, he received a pass from Ivanovic at the edge of the penalty area. He spotted Schurrle’s run and made a deft one-time pass on the half-volley behind the Burnley defense. Schurrle scored with a good finish and the rest is history. Take nothing away from Schurrle’s brilliant run, Fabregas’ exquisite pass showed us a glimpse of his footballing brain. At Arsenal, he had Thierry Henry, who made such runs into the box. At Barcelona, he has Pedro, Messi and Sanchez. Early this season, we had high hopes for Schurrle and Salah since they had the ability to run in behind defenses and beat the offside trap. However, they failed to make the cut under Mourinho. Instead of enhancing Fabregas’ ability, they fell behind in the pecking order and were eventually shipped out to different clubs. One of the reasons why there have been a lot of rumors linking Chelsea to big names like Bale, Pedro, and even Reus. They all have the ability to enhance Fabregas’ ability to find the final pass.
18 assist with two more games to go and if Cesc finds his mojo once again, Henry’s record will be history. Even if he cannot beat this record, he has done enough for us this season. He was known only as a playmaker before, one who can orchestrate football from the back. But in his time at Stamford Bridge, under the leadership of Mourinho, he has improved the defensive side of his game and is never afraid going into a tackle. If Mourinho can fix his second half slump, Arsenal and Barcelona will rue the day they let go of the Spaniard. Form is temporary, class is permanent, as they say, we can only hope that Fabregas will be better next season. He is a fighter, the new Blues maestro and we are surely lucky to have him.
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Edited By: Vikram Vadiganeni