Cesc Fabregas will make Chelsea better, though getting the most out of the player will require Mourinho to adjust

Denis Doyle

Cesc Fabregas is a Chelsea player now, but how does he fit into the squad?

Cesc Fabregas is a Chelsea player. At first glance, that seems wrong on a number of levels. First, there's his association with both Arsenal and Barcelona, two clubs with very different footballing philosophies to those employed by Jose Mourinho. Then there's his skillset, which while somewhat lacking in the current squad, doesn't really fit well into an area of the pitch that needs strengthening. Then there's the player's relationship with the manager himself, which has never seemed particularly warm and fuzzy. All in all, it just seems a very strange move.

Will he make the squad better? Most certainly. While Fabregas was a big disappointment in Barcelona after being one of the Premier League's better players with Arsenal, he was still a good enough player to be a first choice player for one of Europe's elite teams. There is little arguing the fact that he wasn't able to force his way into his preferred position because he just wasn't playing at a high enough level to do so, but three separate managers thought highly enough of his talents to get him on the pitch anyway. That's telling, even if many Barcelona fans (or employees writing farewells) didn't really have any sympathy for a hexagonal peg in an octagonal hole.

*Four if you count Jordi Roura, and five if you include Vincente Del Bosque with the Spanish national team

For myself, the problem with Cesc at Chelsea is likely to be be largely the same as it was at Barcelona. Where exactly will he play that gets the most out of his undeniable ability? There's very little arguing that he's got the talent required to play a big part for Chelsea, but as we've already seen with Juan Mata and David Luiz, Jose Mourinho isn't simply going to place eleven talented players on the pitch if they can't form a cohesive unit.

Fortunately for Chelsea fans, the system Jose Mourinho has employed for most of the past five years has a role perfectly suited for Fabregas. Mourinho likes to use a lone striker leading the line, and behind that striker play three supporting players that are required to both feed that player balls in dangerous areas as well as chip in with semi-frequent goals of their own in order to lessen the scoring burden on that forward. Frankly, Cesc Fabregas is among the best in the world in this regard, and given a season playing in a role actually suited for his skills, would probably be in the discussion as one of the best players in Europe.

The problem, however, becomes much the same as it was at Barcelona. Fabregas isn't particularly well suited to playing wide given the requirements Mourinho places on his wide forwards, as his athleticism is sorely lacking and his defensive work is sub-par. While his offensive acumen would make him a hard player to leave out of the starting eleven, he's just nowhere near as well-rounded a player as Willian, Oscar, Andre Schurrle, or even Mohamed Salah and Eden Hazard. Like Juan Mata before him, Fabregas will need to be protected a bit in order to assure he's not a liability against quality sides. That leaves just the one spot in the center of the attacking band for Fabregas, or Mourinho will be making adjustments to his system to cover for Cesc's deficiencies.

In and of itself, that isn't a huge issue. Cesc Fabregas is a good enough player to justify taking minutes away from guys like Oscar and Willian in the center of the attacking band, and both of the Brazilians could in turn take minutes away from guys like Salah and Schurrle on the wings. That isn't a problem by any means, but using Oscar on a wing is far from ideal, and the overall upgrade to the starting lineup is very minimal by doing so.

Mourinho could get more of this talent on the pitch by simply giving more defensive responsibilities to Fabregas, starting him in a central midfield role similar to the one he played with Arsenal (or the one he'd have played in Barcelona if he had displaced Xavi or Iniesta). Cesc is never going to be a good fit in the sort of role that David Luiz or Ramires was playing during our best games last season, but with a player the quality of Nemanja Matic in the center of the park, there's certainly a case to be made that a combination of Oscar and Fabregas could work in front of him against weaker sides while Matic was asked to be a bit more conservative. That would likely require a bit less adventurousness from Branislav Ivanovic as well, but I doubt you'd hear a peep of complaint about that from anyone that's watched him regularly.

Ironically, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal were faced with much the same dilemma, and opted to allow Fabregas to join Chelsea instead of bringing him back into the fold. There's just no sensible argument to be made that Arsenal wouldn't be a better team with Fabregas in the starting eleven, even if that meant someone was being played out of position to accommodate it. Unlike the Chelsea board though, Wenger decided that a £13.5 million hit to the FFP books just wasn't worth the money based on the current needs of the squad. The passed on the name value of the player in order to focus on the largest needs of the squad, though in fairness, money is very much an issue in North London, even if it shouldn't be given their profits and standing with FFP.

For now, I suppose it's best to just look at this move for what it is, and be happy that the Chelsea squad on the whole is better than it was two days ago. With the current needs of the squad, Cesc is an expensive luxury buy. With the massive increase in revenue and the sales of several players over the past year, it's a luxury buy the club can easily afford to make without hurting their chances of filling the more pressing voids. Those voids still need to be filled though, and while Fabregas improves the roster, the is still strengthening to do both in front of him and behind him. As long as the club didn't jeopardize their ability (or willingness) to strengthen those areas by signing Cesc Fabregas, it's hard to complain too much about the move. I guess we'll have to wait until the end of August to see.

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