Pros and Cons – Fabregas

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Updated: June 14, 2014

Perhaps the biggest bit of news out of Stamford Bridge so far this summer was the announcement of the signing of Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona. Chelsea fans are largely divided on this news; some people are thrilled to have him on board, while others are appalled that we would drop so much cash for a former bitter rival who has been in decline for a few seasons. So let’s break this down, pros and cons style.

Cons

Where to begin? How about with the fact that Fabregas is a man who historically has a bit of bad blood with both Chelsea legend Frank Lampard and current manager Jose Mourinho? The tension between Fabregas and Lampard is less worrying (although still has lead most Chelsea fans to dislike Fabregas intensely), as Lampard is departing the club this summer for new pastures. But what about his relationship with the Special One? After all, Mourinho once (allegedly) kicked out at an already-on-the-floor Fabregas in the midst of a Madrid-Barcelona brawl, and just last year, Fabregas told Mourinho to “shut up” through the press in advance of the meeting between Man City and Barcelona in the Champions League. Not a good sign. Many Chelsea fans are wondering if the two will be able to overcome their differences, and how the awful English media stirring the pot will affect the dressing room. The last thing Chelsea needs going into next season is another Mata situation. And from an emotional perspective, it’s easy to see why the signing of a former Arsenal captain doesn’t sit well with the majority of fans. Certainly, it’s a bitter pill to swallow to be taking the number four of fan favorite and all-around nice guy David Luiz and giving it to generally-disliked, maybe-a-jerk, and probably-a-fickle-cry-baby Fabregas.

There’s also the problem of Fabregas being a player on the decline. It’s no secret that he never played as well for Barcelona as many hoped he would when they “brought him home” from Arsenal. The club even took a parting shot on its official website, using the announcement of his sale as a way to criticize his performances one last time and ensure that the door hit him on the way out (although that particular post has since been edited / taken down). No Chelsea fan wants a repeat of the Torres transfer, wherein Chelsea overspends on a big name but past-his-prime Spaniard from a hated rival, and some are worried that Fabregas will be exactly that.

Another big strike against the Fabregas transfer is that many Chelsea fans view it as a ridiculous luxury buy, one that doesn’t make all that much tactical sense and is another example of Chelsea overspending on an unnecessary area while ignoring other areas of need. After all, Chelsea already have Oscar, Willian, Hazard, Salah, Schurrle, and even Ramires in a pinch to play in the attacking band, and there’s serious questions as to Fabregas’ ability to play in the pivot (due to his less than stellar defensive capabilities). Things are probably already crowded enough, and adding Fabregas to the mix might result in nothing more than a selection headache for Jose Mourinho, or a case of a square peg for a round hole. It’s incredibly unlikely that Fabregas is leaving Barcelona for anything other than a bigger role than he was afforded there, and he’ll want lots of playing time in the Chelsea lineup. Are Chelsea adding another player hungry for minutes to an already crowded area of the pitch?

Lots to potentially dislike then. What about the pros?

Pros

Now, let’s address some of those cons and see if maybe we can turn them around. If your reaction to the transfer is, “I just don’t like him, and I won’t ever, and I don’t want him playing for Chelsea, no matter what,” then really there’s nothing we can do for you. Your fanhood is based entirely on emotions, which is your prerogative. After all, there is no right or wrong way to be a Chelsea fan. It’s sports, so “do you” (as they say). Yes, for a lot of us, it is going to feel a little wrong to be rooting for a former Arsenal captain and Barcelona player, but eventually he’ll just feel like another blue. After all, Ashley Cole was once hated among the Stamford Bridge faithful, but now most of Chelsea fans are sad to see him go.

And what about the reported ill-will between Mourinho and Fabregas? No one can ever really know what the two think of each other, but that being said, Mourinho is an excellent man manager and has a proven track record of converting players who previously despised him to full-fledged believers once they were on his squad. Samuel Eto’o went from “I hate that guy and I would never play for him” to working with Mourinho on not one but two teams. So let’s not rush to judgment just yet. Give it time, and give Mourinho a chance to work his magic on Fabregas. He may well be drinking the Kool-Aid before too long.

As far as the “man on the decline” and “luxury buy” concerns go, this is where I disagree the most. Yes, it’s undeniable that his stats and performances have fallen off (although more slightly than people may otherwise realize, as we’ll see in a second) since he left Arsenal.  But the fact is that he has very rarely played in his preferred position at Barcelona, because even though he’s a fantastically talented player, Xavi is an institution at Barcelona and one of the best players of all-time. I genuinely don’t think there’s anyone in the world who could’ve taken Xavi’s spot in the starting XI at Barcelona, and I remember thinking when he first left Arsenal that Fabregas was crazy to go to the one team where he would be on the bench or playing out of position. Is it any surprise then that Fabregas was not 100% successful at playing as a false-nine at Barcelona, given that he’s not a false nine? No, obviously not, and shifting back to the CM / #10 position will probably help him find his world-class form again. Moreover, Fabregas himself has said that he had some trouble adjusting to the pace and style of the Spanish game, having spent a long and formative time at Arsenal playing in the direct, fast-paced style of England. While that’s a genuine knock against him, it’s also one that’s of smaller concern for someone who is going back to the league that suits him best. And sure, he’s nominally / positionally very similar to what Chelsea already has in the squad, but his particular skill set is not. Fabregas brings something very unique to the squad, and something we’ve been missing badly: incisive passing. Let’s take a look at some stats:

Data courtesy of WhoScored. Click to enlarge.

Data courtesy of WhoScored. Click to enlarge.

I’ve sorted the above table by passer rating, which is WhoScored’s way of combining several categories into one number that describes how good of a passer a player is. Notice how even in his diminished Barcelona days, Fabregas is consistently, season after season, better than nearly anyone Chelsea had last year (or Juan Mata in his Player of the Year winning 2012/2013 season, who I included as a reference point for a ridiculously good passing season). Now look at the accurate through balls per game category. Chelsea’s best, Eden Hazard averaged 0.2 accurate through balls per game last season for a full season, and Juan Mata matched that number the season before. Matic and Mata also both matched Hazard’s 0.2 over the course of the half-seasons they played for Chelsea last year. Oscar, Lampard, Luiz, and Willian didn’t even rate high enough to get a number in this category (nor did Salah, Schurrle, or Mikel, but that much we expected). Meanwhile, Fabregas, in his worst season, averaged three times as many as anyone else’s best, and in his best season (the last season he played for Arsenal), he averaged a ridiculous 1.5 accurate through balls per game. Those numbers are so crazy that it’s worth seeing in a more visual form.

Fabregas literally towers over the other players in this category.

Fabregas literally towers over the other players in this category.

Not only that, but Fabregas wins out all of the top five spots in the average passes per game category, the top two spots in the key passes per game category, two of the top four spots in the passing accuracy category, and four of the top six spots in the accurate long balls per game category. He is, by basically any measure, as good as or better of a passer than anyone Chelsea currently employs, and it is probably not a stretch to say that he will be the best passer in the entire league the moment he takes the pitch for Chelsea next season. That’s really great news for a team who was in dire need of a playmaker against parked busses last season. Chelsea’s biggest problem last year was not winning against the top sides; the Blues did the double on both teams above them in the table and for the most part crushed their top six rivals all year. Chelsea’s biggest problem last season was their inability to score goals against bottom-half teams that set out to defend, and take the necessary three points in those games that is required of a champion. Cesc Fabregas is not the be-all end-all answer to that problem (Chelsea need to add a world-class striker too), but he will certainly go a very long way towards fixing it, and that’s a very big pro.

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.

10 Comments

  1. Emily

    June 19, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    You make very interesting points here. I’m excited to see what he can do at the club and hopefully his passing abilities will help us break down some stubborn defenses.

  2. Matt

    June 19, 2014 at 4:22 PM

    As much as I like to hate on Chelsea’s embarrassment of attacking midfield riches these past few years, it’s clear to anyone who’s been watching the last few seasons that Chelsea has a ton of great dribblers but lacks the final ball (otherwise even the crap heap of Eto’orresBa would’ve scored a few). That’s exactly who Cesc is. As a Barca fan I knew it would be difficult to shoehorn him into the XI, but Xavi has looked OLD the past 12-18 months so it was probably time to pass the torch, not sure why selling Cesc now was the best idea. Look out BPL.

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