So, Cesc Fàbregas. He came, he saw, he conquered. And it was good. But then winter hit, and he started going into a voluntary hibernation of sorts. Don't you just hate it when the bad guys are proven right?
But despite glowing starts to each campaign, Cesc's contributions to the cause gradually decreased as each season drew to a close. From being someone who joined in with the attack, supplying and scoring goals, the magic tended to fade later on in each season. He only scored one, six and one goals in the last 24 games of each season. For some reason, he was never as good in the second half of a season as in the first.
-Barcelona statement, later changed
While he did pick up a hamstring twinge and also fell ill for a week since we turned the calendar over to 2015, Fàbregas hasn't scored since before Christmas and hasn't picked up an official assist since the 5-0 win at Swansea (he did provide the final ball for our second goal in the League Cup final). He's looked a shadow of his former self, with perhaps Sunday's first half even proving a final straw for a few vocal fans watching inside Stamford Bridge or Twittering in front of their TV screens.
Can Cesc Fabregas play in Chelsea's double-pivot? It's a question that many Chelsea fans may be asking themselves in the light of recent developments, while Manchester City fans might just be asking themselves the very same thing. Let me save you all some time and answer that conundrum for you: "No". And before you ask, there are no "ifs" and there are no "buts"; he simply cannot do it.
-Barca Blaugranes interview
With some proper Mourinho magic applied, Fabregas has actually proven capable enough in the pivot, helping us control games much more often than last season, especially in the early season and especially against the non-big teams. Since that was the primary purpose of signing the ex-Arsenal man, I think our expectations in general have been met. For better or worse, in every good way and every bad way, Fabregas has been a key part of this season's team that just so happens to be well on pace to win our first Premier League title since 2009-10.
But now that the assists have dried up, now that we've been losing the midfield battle with increasing regularity, Fabregas has come under fire. Obviously it's not all his fault -- Matic, for example, hasn't exactly been all that he could be lately either, while Ramires is mostly Ramires and Mikel is Mikel (and injured at that) -- but Cesc is the more visible target thanks to his generally more visible and obvious contributions (or lack thereof), like all those assists that at one point had him as an odds-on favorite to break the Premier League assist record.
Perhaps motivated by said reaction, Cesc has seen fit to respond with some thoughts of his own.
"I don't expect from midfield, from nearly getting the ball off John Terry, to get an assist per game. If I was playing next to Diego Costa, Didier Drogba and Eden Hazard every game, then I'd say maybe [I could do that]. But for me, now, it's about making the team play, making the team click, passing the ball to Hazard, to Oscar, Willian and Juan Cuadrado, all these players. I try to make the team move forward and make runs when I can.
"The position I play is where you have to be more of a complete midfielder, you have to defend well, attack, control midfield, you have to pass well, you have to know when to go forward and control the tempo of the game. It's more difficult, but I enjoy it more.
If I was playing regularly as a No10, I'd say judge me on my assists. But in a midfield pivot like we play at Chelsea, where I'm much more behind the strikers - I'm 10 metres behind the No10 and 20 metres behind the striker - of course I'm not going to get in the same position as many times as when you're No10. It's more difficult to get assists."
"That's why the number of assists I have is a little more impressive. But I'm happy in the position I'm playing and, hopefully, I can learn a lot more from Jose Mourinho."
"This season I'm going back to where I started. Between 16-20, I played in the role I am now, but since 20 till 27, I was playing No10 and sometimes as a striker. It's like I'm going back to where everything started, which is midfield, where I can conduct the team from the bottom of the pitch to the attacker."
"It doesn't matter to me if I assist five games in a row or don't because what I see from myself right now, when I watch videos of games, is I contribute much more in the build-up play, in all of the areas, which I was not doing in the past few years. That's where I see I'm improving, especially in defence, getting in the right position, staying more disciplined."
-Cesc Fàbregas; source: Evening Standard
Some of these quotes mirror his words from earlier in the season when he also credited Mourinho for the improvement in his all-around game, but some of the others certainly look like a direct response to the criticisms floating about. He's not just your pretty little assist machine! He needs your love and appreciation, too!
To which I say, well, let's see it, homie. You have ten games to prove the narrative wrong. Ten games to show the critics at Barcelona, Arsenal, and even Chelsea that we're wrong and you're right. Ten games to snap out of the funk and give us more assists. Or show us the all-around game. Or, ideally, do both. But certainly at least one.
Let's go, Cesc!