Cesc Fabregas Highlights His Box-to-Box Ability against Swansea

C5hD2gvWQAASI7JDespite chalking up his 300th Premier League appearance in Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Swansea on Saturday, Cesc Fabregas would have been relieved just to have found his way into the starting line-up for the encounter at Stamford Bridge. It was his first league start for Chelsea in 2017, and just his 6th for the season, but the Spaniard still seemed up for the challenge of winning over Antonio Conte. “In my mind, I decided I wanted to challenge myself. Not everything comes easily in life and sometimes you have to fight certain situations you are not used to, or are against you in a way,” he said in the post-match. “But hopefully, I have shown the manager can trust me.”

Fabregas’ dominant performance against Swansea, not to mention his impressive exertions off the bench throughout the course of the campaign, would have gone a long way towards doing that. Fabregas excelled from the off, and on a day when Chelsea wheeled out Frank Lampard at half-time, the former Arsenal man provided a fitting tribute. He evaded the attentions of Swansea’s midfield for just about all of his 90 minutes on the pitch, and in the same way that Lampard did durng his years in Chelsea’s royal blue shirt, Fabregas regularly found a means through which to arrive late, and often completely unmarked, on the edge of the opposition area.

Selected by Conte in order to add some invention against a very organised and, as Fabregas later put it, “very compact” Swansea side, the 29-year-old playmaker initially operated as Chelsea’s first outlet in attack. He usually dropped deep to collect the ball from the back three during Chelsea’s slower sequences of build-up play, and because of Swansea’s defensive 4-5-1 shape, these sequences were often long and protracted. They allowed Fabregas to show off his ability on the ball, something which allowed him to make 89 passes on the day at an 85% completion rating, but it wasn’t until Chelsea had a little bit more room to move that he could truly express himself.

Fabregas’ first big chance to do this arrived early in the first half, where, upon being the first outlet in a Chelsea counter-attack, he pinged a long, raking aerial pass onto the chest of Diego Costa. The powerful forward controlled it adeptly, and as the Blues continued to propel themselves towards goal, Fabregas did the same by following up his long ball with a run into the final third. He soon appeared on the edge of the area with little to no attention, but despite launching a decent drive at goal, he only saw his effort rebound off a defender and out for a corner.

The attack may not have finished with a tangible outcome on the scoresheet, but Fabregas’ ability to emerge untracked on the edge of the area would quickly become one of the game’s defining features. It allowed him to generate five shots against Swansea – a game-high – and, in the 19th minute, it allowed him to break the deadlock by jabbing home the opener.

Perhaps fittingly, Fabregas, a player who has been working hard to better groove his game to Conte’s system, kicked off this attack by winning the ball back in midfield for Chelsea. He then played a simple pass to get things going, and as in the move described above, he took that not as a cue to admire his efforts but as one to push on. He drove into the final third as Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro kept things ticking over, and after latching onto a neat little cutback from the latter, Fabregas finished the job clinically before wheeling away with his arms outstretched.

It was a great moment for a player who hasn’t regularly been able to start for Chelsea, and when factoring in his second-half assist for Pedro – a neat pass slid in between the lines to coax his compatriot into shooting from range – this looked like Fabregas at the top of his game. It looked like the Fabregas who once notched 15 goals and 13 assists for Arsenal in a single league campaign, all the way back in the 2009/10 season. But more than that, Fabregas also looked like someone who had been able to adapt to Conte’s demands while still retaining his qualities as a difference-maker.

Conte said as much in the post-match. “Cesc played a really good game but it’s important for me to have these solutions and also to analyse each game and understand when we need to have a player with more quality,” the Italian boss said. “For me, I consider Nemanja [Matic], [N’Golo] Kante and Fabregas all top players. I’m very pleased to see him in this form, despite the fact he didn’t start the last league game. This is the right way to continue. I’m pleased to have these types of players, to have that is fantastic as a coach.”

For Fabregas, that kind of endorsement must feel good. Conte views him as a guy who can do the job against teams who might be more difficult to break down, as a guy who can give Chelsea that added bit of skill, drive and creativity when it’s needed. He might not start every game but he’s clearly an important member of the squad, and now, after performing well on a number of occasions for Conte, he has managed to live up to the demands his manager placed in front of him.

“I think he [Conte] came in and wanted to see if I could adapt, and I can understand that,” Fabregas said. “As a player I’m someone who wants to play with the ball, maybe not so much the defensive side. But [this game] shows I adapted to the way he wants to play and hopefully I can play more.”

If he keeps up this sort of form, he’s every chance of doing just that.