World-class talents resembling something closer to League One players became a typical sight during Chelsea’s disastrous 2015/16 campaign. Cesc Fabregas was a case in point.
The master goal creator of the Blues’ Premier League title success just months prior suddenly turned midfield mope, and subsequently found himself being fiercely criticised by fans and media alike.
Although things would steadily improve for Fabregas following Jose Mourinho’s December removal, the Spaniard’s overall top-flight assist count of seven, compared to a divisional-high 18 en route to the ’14/15 title, hints at his heavily reduced impact in an offensive capacity.
Luckily for the former Arsenal skipper and many of his other embarrassed Chelsea teammates, a new permanent manager arriving in the summer meant a fresh slate.
When Antonio Conte’s first two Premier League teamsheets were announced, however, it appeared Fabregas’s Stamford Bridge card might already be marked. The Italian paired new arrival N’Golo Kante alongside Nemanja Matic in the engine room and the World Cup-winning midfielder never even featured in the opening win over West Ham, despite Conte using all his allotted substitutions.
It was a bold statement from the new Chelsea boss, but it can actually be viewed as a very shrewd move considering what happened when he finally let Fabregas loose on 78 minutes of the proceeding game against Watford, with his new side facing defeat at Vicarage Road.
With an axe to grind, the Spanish international’s impact was almost instantaneous. Fabregas was involved in Michy Batshuayi’s equaliser before supplying a gorgeous through ball from deep, to set up Diego Costa for an 87th-minute winner.
Although fans had been irked by his omission, Conte showed strength of character in keeping the midfielder brewing before asking him to show the former Juventus chief what he was missing.
Unless the Italian tactician continues to leave Fabregas on the bench, it appears to be a clear example of how to extract something from a big player who may have grown complacent.
You don’t win three successive Serie A titles at a canter, if you are scared to make controversial calls when the time is right and it bodes well for the 9/2 third favourites so early in the title race.
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