Cesc Fabregas: Chelsea’s Midfield Maestro

Updated: December 29, 2014

Cast your mind back, if you can, to June 12, 2014. Perhaps you were discussing how excited you were for Brazil to take on Croatia in the opening match of the World Cup, or filling out a last minute World Cup bracket. Perhaps you had just gone to see the new hit movie The Fault In Our Stars, or were making plans for a summer barbecue or a trip to the beach for the upcoming weekend. At some point, you also probably got a text message or Facebook notification about Cesc Fabregas signing for Chelsea.

Fabregas signs for Chelsea. Image courtesy of Chelsea FC.

Fabregas signs for Chelsea. Image courtesy of Chelsea FC.

You may have thought to yourself, “You mean that Arsenal and Barcelona [expletive deleted]? That Cesc Fabregas? Gross.” Or perhaps your reaction was, “Oh man, I’ve always secretly liked that guy! Now I can root for him openly!” Well for me, the Fabregas signing marked an important moment for a completely different reason: it was the subject of my first ever article for Chelsea Index. At the time, I was not yet sure what to think of the Fabregas signing, and so I made a pros and cons list of my concerns and hopes. With exactly half a season gone, I thought it would be interesting to look at those concerns and hopes and see how Fabregas is doing so far.

My first concern at the time of signing was the historically bad blood between Mourinho and Fabregas. Remember that before his arrival at Chelsea, Fabregas had been very vocal about his dislike of the Special One, and there was genuine concern that the two would be unable to get along. Since coming to the Blues, however, Fabregas has been very vocally singing a different tune. First there were the following quotes in an interview with The Sun:

You can have your opinion about someone, but when you see the reality it can be so different.  What I really like about him — and I see it on a daily basis — is that he is a winner.  He loves to win, he loves to train, he loves motivating the players, he doesn’t let you breathe when you are training.  He always wants you to give your best even in training.  It is ‘intensity, intensity’ from him as we prepare for the games.

I just love Jose’s half-time team talks.  Tactically you must do this, you must do that, so you go to the games fully prepared and knowing absolutely what you have to do.  This is a very important thing for a player — that you completely trust your manager.  So when you see how he prepares for the game then it happens in the match, it is special.  What I also like is what I’m seeing now in his half-time team talks.  It’s great.  What I think we can do better is most of the time what he thinks too.  What I feel on the pitch he can feel it too on the sidelines… he reads the game so very, very well.

Then there was Fabregas’ famous quotes that he is enjoying his football more than ever, or the interview where he said he “really likes” working with Mourinho.  Much like Samuel Eto’o before him, Cesc has gone from Mourinho hater to a devote drinker of the Kool-Aid. Given how smashingly the two have gotten on, I think it’s probably fair to say that the original concerns turned out to be for naught.

Cesc’s relationship with the manager was not by any means the only concern, however, when he was first signed. There was also lots of talk about Fabregas being a player on the decline, or an overpaid aging star with his best days behind him. In fact, Fabregas was anything but a hot commodity at the time Chelsea signed him. Arsenal passed on him, he couldn’t really break into the Barcelona or the Spain squads with any regularity, and his stats were exhibiting a strong downward trend. I remember being especially worried that this would turn into Torres (Midfielder Remix), but again, it seems those concerns were largely for naught. After the season opener, Mourinho said that Barcelona had misused Fabregas, and that he wouldn’t make the same mistake. Seeing as Fabregas has been back to his very best in his half season under Mourinho, I would say that the Jose was probably exactly right. It seems that Cesc’s statistical blip was much more of a case of wrong country, wrong position, and wrong system, than any actual decline in his ability to perform at the highest level. Remember that when Fabregas was first signed, it was unclear where exactly Chelsea meant to play him. It had been quite a long time since he had been played in the deep central midfield, spending most of his post-Arsenal time playing in either the #10 role or the false-9 role for club and country. Some people were worried that Cesc was indeed going to continue being deployed in the attacking band, where he wasn’t particularly effective, and where Chelsea already had a lot of good players for only a few spots. Luckily, as we have seen, Fabregas has spent most of his time on the pitch partnering Matic in the pivot, and when he has been played in the attacking band, it has been to give poor Oscar (who might be the most overused soccer player of the last three years) a much-needed rest. Any concerns that Fabregas was a luxury buy or a player on the decline have been put firmly to bed, as Cesc has forged himself into an integral part of the squad in only a few short months.

Finally, aside from all the concerns, Chelsea fans were also rightly excited at the prospect of having Fabregas in blue, for one very specific reason: his passing ability. “Fabregas will be the best passer in the league,” I claimed at the time (along with a lot of other Chelsea fans), and that’s exactly what’s happened. Not even Juan Mata at his very best was anywhere near as good as Cesc has been in half a season so far. As is my wont, I decided to look at some stats to back up my claim.

As you can see in the tables above, Fabregas is leading the league in terms of total passes and successful passes (although Yaya Toure, who is the only player who comes even close in terms of total number over the first half of a season, has a slight edge in terms of per 90 numbers). And not only does Fabregas pass as much as Yaya (the two of them being leagues above everyone else in the EPL) in terms of total / successful volume, but his average pass length is a full two-yards higher, meaning Fabregas is hitting more difficult balls.

And it’s not just Cesc’s total passing numbers but it’s what Fabregas does with those passes that is the most impressive. Yaya might be just as good in terms of volume, but he doesn’t come anywhere close in terms of creativity. In fact, no one does. Fabregas is league best in terms of assists, key passes per game, total key through balls, total through ball assists, and accurate through balls per game. The only category where he isn’t league leader is in total key passes (Stewart Downing has 48 to Cesc’s 46), but he does have the league highest number of key passes per game. There are so many stats that are shockingly good, but my favorite one is this: Steven Gerrard led the league with 13 assists last season, and Fabregas has already managed that number in only half a season. He is on all-time record pace in several categories, and there’s no real reason to think that he is going slow down in the second half. Cesc Fabregas: Chelsea’s Midfield Maestro. Long may he reign!

This piece has been contributed by Oscar Puente, a Chelsea fan since Michael Ballack joined the club in 2006. Oscar hails from New York City, and is a mathematician and economist in his regular life. You can find him on Twitter @footiefromafar.

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