Cesc Fàbregas has now played in 27 consecutive games for Chelsea, the second longest active streak on the team after César Azpilicueta, who’s played in every single match. And while only 13 of those 27 have been starts, Cesc has generally managed to play a key role regardless of how many minutes he actually played. Whether as a starter or as a substitute, Fàbregas has been one of the biggest game-changers at Chelsea this season, able to impact the game in a way that no other player on the team could.
Monday night was no different. Thanks in part to Middlesbrough’s foolish strategy to sit back and hope for the best, Fàbregas was pinging passes left, right, and center, long and short, whenever and wherever he pleased. Diagonals out to Alonso were especially effective, but there were plenty of passes to go around of the nearly 100 he completed with his match-leading 130 touches on the ball. If Conte’s ever considered played Fàbregas in a Pirlo-esque role in a future 3-5-2, this was a perfect audition.
While immediately after the match Cesc was informed that one of his two assists on the day was taken away, the Premier League’s official statistics have him credited still with both.
UPDATE: It’s been officially awarded.
In any case, Fàbregas now has at least 10 assists on the season for the sixth time in his Premier League career. That’s a new record.
After the game, Conte paid tribute to his creative midfielder, comparing his personal journey from an early-season afterthought to an important and consistent contributor.
“Cesc is one of the best examples of our season. This season he didn’t play a lot at the start. Then, through hard work, he improved a lot and now he is playing in every game. This development of Cesc is our development.”
“We started the season not in the right way, with a lot of problems, and only through hard work and finding the right solutions together have we found the right way. I think Cesc is showing he is a fantastic player and I’m pleased for him. I saw this season he put himself in this team in every moment if he played, or if he didn’t play. Now he is deserving this.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Having spent most of the first few months not playing much at all, but still behaving very professionally in media appearances and, by all indications, in training, it’s nice to see both Conte and Fàbregas staying true to their promises and their commitment to each other and to the team. Many expected Cesc to be the first out the door when Conte arrived. At worst, he’s now first off the bench as the Premier League’s best 12th man.
What the future may hold remains unclear, but this reduced yet still key role (let’s call it surgical) has brought out some excellent performances from the 30-year-old. With two years left on his contract, important decisions will have to be made this summer, both by Chelsea and by Fàbregas. But if he’s happy with his role continuing as is, we could certainly use his qualities next season as well.