Two of the biggest reasons why Chelsea won the title last season were Cesc Fàbregas and Diego Costa. Recruited by Jose Mourinho in the summer of 2014, with the latter's pursuit a culmination of a year-long plan (in which Samuel Eto'o acted as a stop-gap), the two of them propelled Chelsea to the top of the table in the fall of 2014, a spot we did not relinquish until the start of the next season.
Unfortunately, two of the biggest reasons why Chelsea relinquished said invincibility were Cesc Fàbregas and Diego Costa. Assists, goals both dried up and were replaced by a non-existent midfield and a striker more concerned about getting under his opponents' skin than putting the goal into the back of the net. Unsurprisingly, and especially after Mourinho's sacking (despite whatever role The Special One may have had in this fall from grace), Cesc and Diego found themselves front and center as the villains of the piece.
Interim manager Guus Hiddink has moved to ease the pressure on both Spanish internationals, reminding everyone that football is a team game.
"Diego is focusing very much on his job and that's a lot of responsibility. He's brave and he likes to be like that. It's a lot of responsibility, but not just on Diego. He has a big temper and wants to perform and is keen to score, but the other attacking players must play a part in assists and goals. It's not just him."
"There's a lot of technical skill in the midfield and attacking positions. We have to see how the players can become even more productive and take the next step. We're trying to get them into good positions in the box so that their high quality has more effect. They have the quality. Now they have to be productive with assists or goals. It's not just about Diego."
-Guus Hiddink; source: Evening Standard
While that may be true, Costa's movement and decisions certainly weren't conducive to proper goal production earlier this season. It's one of the enduring mysteries of this season how Chelsea have, seemingly, simply forgotten to do all the things that made the team great last season. And that applies not only to both Costa and Fàbregas, but also to the likes of Hazard and Matić and Ivanović and Azpilicueta and so on.
"I think we are focusing too much on Cesc in this regard. The whole team weren't doing well until December. It's not just one player."
"When you look at the goals conceded, that's not just our defence that is not good enough. It's the whole team's performance. I don't want to focus on just one player who might need a bit more strength or whatever to get back into shape."
-Guus Hiddink; source: Mirror
While Hiddink's no doubt correct, Fàbregas was, for better or worse, practically undroppable under Mourinho. And since the start of the season, it's been mostly for the worse. It would seem that the interim manager has recognized this.
"It's not about a goalie and 10 outfield players. We want 14 or 15 potentially good players who, when they're needed, can go into the lineup. One time it might be Mikel. The next it might be Cesc or others. It depends on the opponents, too."
"We try to get the players in the best shape they were last year, it's true. But what we're looking for in the multitude of games coming up is we need everyone in top shape. There are games where, tactically, we want a different balance offensively or defensively."
-Guus Hiddink; source: Mail
"[Fàbregas] can play as a No 10 as well. He played also a lot of games just in front of the defence. But he is of course smart in the final third with his passes. He can play either position."
"It depends also on the strength of the opponent in midfield, whether we choose more attacking orientated player or a defensive orientated player. It's not just one fixed team."
-Guus Hiddink; source: Mail
We have already seen an increased role for John Obi Mikel (though Cesc was battling some sort of illness, too) as Hiddink attempts to find a balance in the team that allows for some semblance of midfield control while not completely sacrificing attacking prowess. When we first signed Cesc, many of us thought along similar lines, that the ex-Barca and ex-Arsenal man would allow us to consistently break down "lesser" sides while perhaps taking a backseat when we decided to play more reactively. The latter bit never quite happened, but we managed to ride the former to title glory regardless.
Now, it appears we will once again begin this search for control, though perhaps with the help of a bigger cast of midfield characters, taking pressure of Fàbregas (both in terms of output and attention) and, in turn, Diego Costa as well. We won't exactly know what all this entails until we see it in action, but as far as words and intentions, it sounds pretty good.