Cesc Fabregas has denied something is amiss at Chelsea but his performance for Spain on Friday underlines otherwise.
The former Barcelona midfielder has been highlighted as one of the biggest underperformers in Chelsea’s dreadful title defence, but put in a vintage show as Spain outclassed England 2-0 in Alicante.
Earlier this month The Secret Footballer even told TEAMtalk that Fabregas has divided the squad at Stamford Bridge, leading a “mini revolt” against Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic style of play.
Such claims were strenuously denied by both the player and the club, with Fabregas telling Spanish radio station COPE: “Mourinho trusts us and we trust him. Obviously it is a lie. I backed him in a very difficult time.”
That may be true but it is evident that something is not quite right in West London.
Much has been made of the role he has largely been selected to play by Mourinho – patrolling central midfield in a partnership with an emphasis on protecting the Blues’ leaky back four.
In contrast, the 28-year-old was allowed much more freedom representing his country on Friday, playing largely as a number 10 at the tip of a midfield diamond.
With Sergio Busquets guarding Spain’s defence, and Thiago Alcantara and Andres Iniesta leisurely recycling possession, Fabregas was afforded the time to find pockets of space around his English counterparts.
It is a position he was often tasked with for the first half of last season, as Chelsea laid the platform for their dominant title-winning campaign by playing an attacking brand of football which is rarely seen by a Mourinho side.
During that period he was involved in 15 goals, either scoring them himself or providing the final pass for a team-mate.
Come the new year Chelsea’s attitude visibly changed, and the football became increasingly reliant on Eden Hazard coming up with a deciding moment of brilliance.
Domestically, the Spaniard’s lacklustre form has continued into the current campaign, and has become more provident with the champions languishing 16th in the Premier League, only three points above the relegation zone.
It would be unfair to pin the lowly position solely on Fabregas – Mourinho has problems which need solving all over the pitch – but he does appear to have been somewhat scapegoated by his manager.
Having been left out of the starting lineup in three of Chelsea’s last four matches, he was also substituted at half-time at West Ham.
In stark contrast, his natural abilities are accentuated by Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque, and the statistics also highlight the improvement in his performance, underlining just how much more involved he was in the game.
According to WhoScored, in the Premier League Fabregas has made an average of 67.4 passes per game, with an 82.9% completion rate, including 1.8 key passes.
On Friday he made 99 passes, but what catches the eye is how much more incisive he made his contributions – completing 87.9% and making three key passes.
His pièce de résistance was the brilliantly languid clip to Mario Gaspar – the type of pass he made look effortlessly easy on numerous occasions in the first half of last season – which was met by an equally superb finish by the right-back.
In addition, Fabregas’ increased involvement in attack did not come at the expense of his defensive work – a part of his game which is widely criticised.
With Spain pressing England high up the pitch he made six tackles, in comparison to an average of 2.1 per game in the league.
Of course it should be pointed out that Roy Hodgson’s outfit did not present the sternest of tests, but it was possibly a fair reflection of how plenty teams have set up against the Blues this campaign.
England sat back with numbers behind the ball and looked to hit their opponents on the break.
Whereas Fabregas has mostly failed to provide the quality required to break teams down – he has registered only one assist in 12 appearances – in Alicante he suddenly appeared more confident in his ability to do so.
Perhaps most tellingly, in a Spain shirt and surrounded by those players he seemed to be enjoying his football.
If Mourinho is to turn things around at Stamford Bridge, he needs to find a way to get Fabregas smiling again in a Chelsea shirt.
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