3 Key Things: A look at How Cesc Fabregas Used Clever Movement to Dominate against Newcastle

cescCesc Fabregas produced a supreme display of midfield passing play in Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Newcastle United. He pulled the strings with his distribution, hitting long balls and shorter flicks around the corner, and this enabled him to be one of the game’s dominant players.

Playing as a right-sided central midfielder, as a part of Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 formation, he had a few “moves” that he used to find space, and starting with his ability to drop a bit deeper, we’ll take a look at them.

1. Dropping off

Newcastle operated with a 3-4-2-1 formation, but given that they spent much of their time defending against a Chelsea team that enjoyed 65% of possession, they were often sitting back in a 5-4-1 system. That meant there was plenty of congestion in central areas as Chelsea tried to work the ball forward, so Fabergas needed to get a little bit inventive with his positioning. He wasn’t going to be able to just float into pockets between the lines, because those pockets weren’t always going to be there. As a result, one of his biggest ways of finding space became the drop-off, which he used as a means through which to get away from Newcastle’s line of midfielders.

This enabled him to receive the ball on his own, and although he was very deep because of this, Fabregas continually showed the kind of passing range that has made him such a renowned creative midfielder player. There were a number of examples of this, but the most obvious arrived just after the quarter-hour mark, when the Spaniard dropped way back into his own half, to the back of the centre circle, to receive possession. He then assessed his options quickly and, upon seeing Eden Hazard’s run in behind the Newcastle backline, fizzed a long aerial pass into the Belgian’s path.

Its accuracy was such that Hazard could take a touch and shoot, but despite a solid effort that would’ve nestled inside the back of the net, Karl Darlow made a fantastic save for the Magpies. Even so, this highlighted the first way in which Fabregas found space, and in combination with his range of passing, which allows him to loft a pass over every one of the opposition’s outfielders, it’s a strong attribute for him. He used it to good effect too, but he couldn’t always just drop off and fire off a perfectly weighted pass. Because of that, he had to find others methods as well, and in peeling off to create from out wide, he did just that.

2. Drifting wide

Newcastle sat back quite frequently, and when doing so, they tended to guard the middle of the pitch. Even when their wide attackers, Ayoze Perez and Jacob Murphy, filtered into defensive positions to line up alongside their central midfielders, they covered centrally first. So, for Fabregas, this meant he would have to go to the wing from time to time, in a bid to escape Newcastle’s attentions. He did this occasionally when Newcastle were sitting deep and, in counter-attacking moments, he did it when Perez and Murphy were still caught upfield. These spots near the touchline gave him the space to set things up, to think about his next move before he was smothered by defenders.

In the 9th minute, he very nearly teed up a goal after floating out to the right-hand side. He picked up the ball, saw Hazard running beyond the Newcastle backline, and clipped a ball over the top. It found its target, and when Hazard played a lay-off for Morata, the Spaniard had the chance to shoot. He hit it hard from a tight angle, and although there wasn’t a lot of accuracy about the attempt, Fabregas again had his fingerprints all over the attack.

A little later in the first half, he again drifted towards the touchline to assist Chelsea in breaking forward. He played a neat pass infield for Hazard, who was subsequently brought down by Ciaran Clark. The defender found himself booked as a result of his cynical challenge, and even in these moments, where Fabregas was simply keeping the momentum in the move with a short pass, his clever positioning was at the heart of things.

3. Driving forward

Even when he wasn’t getting on the ball, Fabregas was making things happen by clearing space for others. He made forward runs when possible, usually as Chelsea were preparing to cross from out wide, and after many seasons honing this quality at Arsenal, it’s fair to say he does it pretty well.

Again, the best example of this came in the first half. Here, while Chelsea were patiently waiting for Cesar Azpilicueta to vacate the backline in order to come up and cross, Fabregas ran forward. He surged into the area, in a right-of-centre location, and drew the attentions of Newcastle central defender Clark. Unused, the former Barcelona man then made another run, this time towards the wide areas, and sucked Clark out with him. This left a massive gap in the Newcastle defensive line, and following a clearance that fell short, Hazard sprinted right into that gap and scored.

This was yet another lovely piece of movement from Fabregas, and the fact that it was his pass, in the second-half, that set up the penalty for Hazard’s second goal, illustrated his value. He moved and passed with skill, creativity and intelligence, and because of that, he was a key part of Chelsea’s tidy 3-1 win.