As an exciting Chelsea-Watford contest was dwindling down into the final few minutes, Cesc Fabregas popped up with the winner for the Champions. It may have been a relatively meaningless game, certainly compared to the ones that came before it, but it still showed the importance Fabregas holds in this team’s fortunes.
It wasn’t the first time Antonio Conte turned to the Spanish maestro to ensure Chelsea left with all three points. In fact, he’s been doing just that since handing Fabregas a surprise start in the 3-1 victory over Manchester City in December. Fabregas had not played at all in the previous eight matches, coming off of an abject performance in the Arsenal loss as well as a subsequent injury with the now famous formation change happening in the background.
Replacing the injured Nemanja Matic at the Etihad, Fabregas hardly missed a beat. His superb assist for Diego Costa’s equaliser turned the game on its head, and Chelsea never looked back as they strolled to a strong final 20 minutes and a huge victory. It was then that they started to believe in their title chances and it was also then that Conte probably started to believe in Fabregas. Cesc was back on the bench the following week, but with the game heading towards a drab 0-0 draw, his number was called. Yet again, he assisted Costa, a man “very necessary” to him, for an important goal as Chelsea squeaked past West Brom.
Three days later, Fabregas started and scored in a 1-0 win at struggling Sunderland. Within a fortnight of being brought back into the squad, the 30-year-old had played a huge part in Chelsea continuing their win streak. Two assists and a goal saw the Blues pick up the maximum of nine points from those contests. Fabregas’ participation in these wins turned an inevitable January departure into an assured place in the squad for the remainder of the year, maybe even beyond. He’s played in every single game since that City win.
There’s been much speculation on the Spanish international’s future, as his current contract runs out in two years. He’ll be 32 by then, and Chelsea’s policy is to only hand out 1-year deals to players over 30. Whether Fabregas would agree to these conditions is anybody’s guess. His lack of athleticism and speed means that he’s probably going to be more or less the same player he is then as he is now. A large amount of regression is unlikely, especially if his minutes continue to be limited.
Chelsea are a good place for him in that sense. Since starting for Arsenal at the young age of 17, he has accumulated a ton of mileage and wear-’n’-tear on his body. We don’t have to look very far to find footballers who started so young and then burned out early (Torres, Rooney, Owen, etc.). Using Fabregas sparingly and surgically is the ideal way to make the best use of his tremendous abilities.
For Chelsea, offering a one-year extension on his current deal would be seen as reward for his commitment and dedication to the club, keeping him content with the comfort of a three-year contract. Talk of an AC Milan move is never far away, and while unlikely at the moment, the situation could easily change.
And that would be a shame. Despite the Watford game on Monday being remembered mostly for the celebrations after, Fabregas' contribution in that win shouldn’t be underestimated. His ability to enter a match in the second half, change the game situation and create a winning-goal or help lock the game down through midfield control is a vital feature of Conte’s gameplan. As Chelsea head into a more difficult schedule next year with the addition of European football, an x-factor like Fabregas will play an even more crucial role.
Another appearance, another contribution to a Chelsea win. Let’s hope Fabregas keeps wearing that magic hat for a few more years at the Bridge.