It’s been a terrible start to the season for Chelsea, who sit 8 points adrift of pace-setters Manchester City after just four matches, with a gap in goal difference of 13 away from last season’s runners-up. Throw in what most would consider to have been a thoroughly underwhelming transfer window for the champions and you are left with one decidedly unhappy manager.
One issue that Jose Mourinho would have sent some time looking at during the international break is is decline in fortune of Cesc Fabregas.
A number of valid reasons have been suggested with regards to the Spaniard’s drop off in form. Fatigue is certainly among them, as well as a change in ethos from Chelsea at the turn of the year once they had re-established a lead to keep hold of. In his typically pragmatic and effective way Mourinho tasked his team with defending their position at the top of the table in a very literal sense, after the Blues had undoubtedly played the best football in the opening months of the campaign.
Their free-flowing approach early on in the season suited Fabregas to a tee, with the freedom to express himself in attacking areas heralding a remarkable 13 league assists heading into the New Year. In a more restricted and disciplined role thereafter, the former Barca playmaker began to have less of an impact and, at times, show the weaknesses in his positional play in deep positions.
That is something that has very much continued into the current campaign, and has seen Chelsea’s defence exposed, with Nemanja Matic also suffering a significant slump as the primary protector to the back four.
In Fabregas’ case, it’s worth noting that his exceptional form before the turn of the year was simply unsustainable, but the basic fundamentals of his game are failing him at present, and he could do with a rest, if not a kick up the proverbial.
Having played only 38 minutes fewer in the league in 2015 for Chelsea than 2014, his stats are worth contrasting. First and foremost Fabregas has had a direct hand in just 6 goals in the last 8 months, compared to 15 in 2014. He’s averaging more minutes per key pass (41.9 from 26.2), dribble (90.8 from 76) and even tackle (33.4 from 31.9) this year, proving that his current role just isn’t working for the player or the side.
The most notable and perhaps surprising drop is that of Fabregas’ pass accuracy, from an impressive 87.5% in the league before January to a very modest 81.9% since. For a player of his quality, in his position, that just isn’t good enough. The fact that it has come in a time when he is attempting fewer risky, defence-splitting passes is even more inexcusable. One would expect a player tasked with performing a more defensive role to tackle more often and keep play ticking over in a simple and effective manner, but that hasn’t been the case.
With a sensational WhoScored.com rating of 7.92 in the opening months of his Chelsea career, Fabregas’ score has dropped off to a somewhat underwhelming 7.16, and further still when just taking the current season into account (6.74). The issue for Mourinho is that he has limited options available to replace the 28-year old. Ramires would be the obvious candidate but beyond that John Obi Mikel is far too limited to have the desired impact, and while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is an alternative, none of those players are capable of having the impact Fabregas can on the ball when he’s at his best.
The fact is that Fabregas is far from that right now, and beyond the usual links to Paul Pogba Chelsea didn’t really show a great deal of interest in strengthening in central midfield this summer. If the Spain international, and indeed his midfield partner don’t improve, and fast, it’s something they may well live to regret.