Making the Case for Cesc Fàbregas

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Updated: March 1, 2017

It’s not been the easiest of seasons for Cesc Fàbregas. Since Antonio Conte relegated him to the bench in favour of a Matic-Kanté midfield pairing in October, the Spaniard had been struggling for playing time – something he hadn’t experienced in his first two years at Chelsea. Even he admits he had to fight for a place.

“This season … I have had to compete more in training or in the little minutes I had to prove myself to try to be in the starting XI, ” Fàbregas said in a recent interview with Sky Sports.

Though limited in playing time, Cesc has been widely hailed as an ‘impact sub’ who could turn the game around if Chelsea were in need of a late boost. Examples include Leicester away in the EFL Cup, when he scored two in extra time to complete a comeback from 2-0 down; and Watford away in the PL, when he won possession back on the edge of Chelsea’s area and played a splitting through-ball that cut open Watford’s defense and let Diego Costa make it 2-1 with just three minutes left on the clock.

Yet despite his impact, he’s been limited to just six starts and 26% of Chelsea’s total minutes in the PL.  Conte’s reluctance to play him has apparently been a lack of faith in Fàbregas’ defensive abilities, a vital aspect when playing in a midfield two.

“I know that as a player I like to play with the ball and on the defensive side I’m not like that,” The Spaniard acknowledged in an interview with the Evening Standard. He then went on to point to his start against Swansea as a positive sign for his Chelsea future. “It shows that I have adapted very well to [Antonio Conte’s] philosophy and what he wants. Hopefully I can learn more to play even more.”

Fàbregas very well could be playing more if his performances manage to dispel Conte’s worries about his defensive attributes. By any standard, they should have already: the stats show that he’s by far outperforming his fellow midfielders at Chelsea. Below he’s compared to Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kanté, with Eden Hazard for reference.

Attacking stats vs teammates

 

In terms of scoring, assisting, creating chances, and getting the ball forward, Cesc is far and away Chelsea’s best player. Kanté’s and Matic’s numbers attacking numbers pale in comparison to the Spaniard’s, which is perhaps to be expected considering their individual traits.

Yet Fàbregas’ numbers continue to impress even when compared to some of the best players in the Premier League who perform his role. At a per ninety rate, he without question outperforms players like de Bruyne, Wanyama, Herrera, Özil (not shown below), and even Manchester United’s record signing Paul Pogba.

Attacking stats vs league's best

There’s no question about Fabregas’ attacking abilities. He’s unequivocally the most productive player at Chelsea and even outperforms the league’s best midfielders consistently. But how do his defensive stats compare? Side by side with his fellow Chelsea midfielders, he’s well beaten. However, it’s already been acknowledged that Cesc is of a different profile from the Serb and the Frenchman.

A more accurate comparison of Fàbregas’ abilities within the context of the PL can be seen by again comparing him to four other midfielders who play his role. This time he’s not so dominant. Still, he’s by no means the worst. He’s won more tackles than Pogba and boasts more interceptions than Wanyama, both impressive stats. His stats mostly line up with Pogba, a player often praised for his box-to-box abilities. On a statistical level, Fàbregas is hardly worthless in defense.

Defensive stats vs league's best

So while often maligned for his defending, Fàbregas is in reality a middle-of-the-road performer. In any case, it’s important to realize that’s not where his real value comes from — it’s his attacking abilities that make him indispensable. He’s put up numbers way above Matic and Kanté and, what’s more, in clutch moments. Whether it’s with a future change of formation or by deploying him in a midfield two, Antonio Conte has to make room for Cesc Fàbregas in this Chelsea team.

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