Fabregas’s days in a two-man midfield are more or less over, and Conte has fully realised that now. For the rest of his time at Chelsea, he won’t be required for his legs, but for his brain and his feet.
Antonio Conte’s well-organised Chelsea side picked up where they left off before the international break with another brilliant all-round team performance yesterday as the champions dispatched a disappointing West Brom side 4-0 at The Hawthorns.
Once again, the strike partnership of Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard was in lethal form as between them they caused endless problems for the Baggies defence. My analysis this week however goes to a rejuvenated and ever-impressive Cesc Fabregas. Once again enjoying himself in a freer midfield role, the Spaniard was unstoppable yesterday, at the heart of all things good in our play.
— Breathe Chelsea (@BreatheChels) November 18, 2017
As I’ve mentioned before, Conte’s change of formation to a 3-5-2 has helped Fabregas immensely in his ability to influence the team positively. On this occasion, he looked like a relaxed individual, in full control of his game, who understood his new role in the side. That role being a pass-picking midfield general.
What Fabregas will be aware of more than anyone right now is that he has effectively been stripped of all of his defensive responsibilities. In sacrificing a forward for another central midfielder, Conte has given the team all the protection they need behind Fabregas, allowing him to focus entirely on what’s happening when we have the ball. He didn’t make a single tackle yesterday, and only executed one interception. Whilst those stats might sound negative upon first viewing, they are merely a reflection of that fact that the 30-year-old has very little to do anymore when we don’t have the ball in comfortable games such as this. Our French duo of N’Golo Kanté and Tiemoue Bakayoko deal with that. Judging by the latter’s finishing in the Manchester United game last weekend, having him behind Fabregas is certainly the right way around for the time being.
On the ball, he was superb, finding teammates 87% of the time from all areas of the pitch. What was staggering and great to see what that absolutely none of his 67 passes yesterday went backwards. Compare that to his most recent game playing in a two-man midfield away at Roma when 30% of his passes went backwards. Needless to say, he struggled that night.
Fabregas’s days in a two-man midfield are more or less over, and Conte has fully realised that now. For the rest of his time at Chelsea, he won’t be required for his legs, just his brain and his feet. You can tell already that he himself is much happier with that being the case.
There’s a few reasons why it’s only Ryan Giggs who has made more Premier League assists than Cesc Fabregas, the first being because the Welshman has played almost exactly twice as many games, the second being because very few players in the world are as intelligent and consistent in finding teammates in goal-scoring positions as our number four.
Yes, West Brom did not defend well at all, but this is still the Premier League, and yesterday was just yet another lesson in how to create goals from Fabregas. What really impressed me from this game was the way he varied his lofted balls and his sharp balls along the floor. He played 14 lofted passes yesterday, which was considerably more than anyone else on the pitch. Such was the control that Fabregas had on the tempo and outcome of the game yesterday, he was almost toying with the West Brom defenders as to when he would fizz it in to feet, or when he would play it over the top. For his first ‘half-assist’ he passed the ball firmly into Morata’s feet who brilliantly used the pace of that pass to find Hazard who rounded the keeper. Assuming he would then repeat something similar later on, the West Brom defenders stepped up to get closer to Hazard and Morata, only for Fabregas to play the ball over the top and in behind them. Simple, but clever and effective.
West Brom’s real problem however was that they were adamant on playing a high line, but then made no effort to pressurise Fabregas on the ball. How can you expect to play the off-side trap effectively when the striker and the midfielder have all the time they need to judge their runs and passes successfully?
Of course, while Fabregas was the man supplying them with possession for most of the game, I can’t sign off this week without yet another good word for Hazard and Morata. The pair reached new heights yesterday with unbelievable chemistry on and off the ball. With Hazard clearly in the mood of late, and Morata back in the goal-scoring groove, Liverpool have got a lot to think about ahead of Chelsea’s visit to Anfield next Saturday.