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Breaking down a scandal: Fabregas's goal against Crystal Palace

Jamie McDonald

The second goal is pure art for me – and collective art which is even better for me than individual. I thought the game against Burnley was our goal of the season but this one is even better.

As a collective movement for sure it is the best goal of the season. The combination was absolutely beautiful.

-Jose Mourinho. Source: Sky Sports.

I like to play this kind of football, and Eden and Oscar do as well, and the three of us connect very well and that goal showed well the qualities of the whole team.

-Cesc Fabregas. Source: ChelseaFC.

It would be a stretch to say that Chelsea weren't comfortable against Crystal Palace until Cesc Fabregas' first Premier League goal since 2010 made it 2-0. At 10 versus 10 and holding a 1-0 lead, the Blues were in complete control: we had a plan and Palace didn't, and our technical superiority meant that we could hold onto the ball for basically as long as we felt like.

But it was still a very welcome strike. Especially since it was so gosh-darned pretty. Let's break it down.

The play begins with Palace losing the ball deep in Chelsea territory off a goal kick. A throw in inside your own third is hardly threatening, and Chelsea proceed to knock the ball around at the back for a while to chew up some time. This is a phase of play I like to think of as 'secure' football -- you make sure that possession is locked down and that you have a solid foundation to build an attack.

Since this comes from a set piece (which is to say that Palace have their defence set up already) and since they're not being pressed at all, the Blues can take their time bringing the ball out. But they have to get it done eventually, and they transition through the combination of Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Loïc Rémy:

Hazard is wide left, but the space for him to cut into the middle is open -- at 10 versus 10, rather a lot of space is open everywhere -- and he offers for a decisive pass through the middle. This is the point at which Chelsea move into the attack proper, but Hazard doesn't keep possession, as you might expect. Instead, he flicks the pass on for Rémy, who has plenty of work to do.

Rémy is engaged by Martin Kelly, whose challenge leaves space open on Palace's right flank. Although Rémy is normally thought of as a quick finisher, somewhat in the same vein as our old buddy Nicolas Anelka, his job here is to hold onto the ball and roll his man, which opens up space (shaded) to enter the attack third. And he manages that magnificently -- Kelly is dispatched, the ball finds its way to the left side, and Filipe Luis is there to help out.

Now the target space has changed:

Palace are leaning heavily to their right side, which opens room for one of Chelsea's unsung heroes to power forward. Branislav Ivanovic's runs down the flank have resulted in a number of Chelsea goals this season, and although Luis is unable to pick him out, he can use Hazard as a pivot to feed his fellow fullback.

Ivanovic's first instinct upon receiving the ball would have been to blaze his way into Julian Speroni's box. but Palace react quickly and force him to turn back. But having tried and failed with one of their three main attacking options, Chelsea turn to another: feeding Cesc Fabregas in the middle. And now the magic happens.

I'm not going to screenshot, because it'd take too long to mark up every clever touch. Here's the gif of the goal:

So. Matic to Hazard to Fabregas to Hazard to Fabregas to Hazard to Oscar to Fabregas to 2-0. Simple, right?

There are a number of elements here which are impressive. First of all we have the initial one-two, which would normally see Fabregas play much softer passes in order for the former to run onto the ball in the space on Hazard's right. That this is not what happens confuses the defence, drawing a defender out to crash and also luring Oscar's marker away.

You might not have noticed on first or second watching that Fabregas' link with Oscar isn't a straight one-two. The passing line between them isn't open following Fabregas' interchange with Hazard, so Chelsea actually use the Belgian to flick the ball around the corner for Oscar. It's a subtle touch but a brilliant one, because it flummoxes the defence still further while getting the ball to the edge of the box.

And then there's Oscar's hips. The ball is moving fast and not really at the right speed for a normal footballer to bounce a pass into Fabregas' space, but Oscar somehow manages to twist himself into the perfect position to play in the midfielder. The finish itself isn't so bad either.

I imagine you'll have watched the goal several times by now, but what I've found most instructive is to watch the individual defenders trying to cope with the play. At least three are taking steps in the wrong direction or caught flat-footed. Palace legitimately didn't know what hit them, while the Blues danced around them with impuninity.

That might sound more like a love letter than real analysis, but hey. This was art. Savour it.

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