It has been a long and arduous season for the players at Chelsea, and one that ultimately will end in success, with the distinct probability that Sunday’s clash with Crystal Palace will bring the Premier League trophy back to Stamford Bridge for the first time since 2010. It has not, however, been an end-of-season run-in laden with glory and victories of the dominant, sweeping nature with which much of their early campaign was permeated.
And such is the reactive nature of football that views are often clouded when there is a player or team who do not end the season well. That is precisely what happens each year with the team of the season and will provide much of the explanation as to why Cesc Fabregas has been omitted from this year’s edition.
Fabregas has even been subjected to a fair amount of criticism for the limp manner in which his season has petered out. When Arsene Wenger turned him down last summer, it had looked like a catastrophic decision once the Spaniard hit his stride at Stamford Bridge, swiftly helping the Blues to the top of the Premier League. They have barely moved from there since, and yet they have been derided as boring in the aftermath of their dull goalless draw at the Emirates on Sunday and plenty have concluded that Wenger was right to reject him. Fabregas bore the brunt of the criticism as the centre of attention on his return to his former club.
He wasn’t the effective passer he was earlier in the season, unable to control the game like he previously had in other games for Chelsea. Nor was he a tough tackling brute that would break up play efficiently and regularly. Neither seems reason enough to belittle his importance to Chelsea or praise the wisdom of Wenger rejecting the chance to sign him at all.
Fabregas and Nemanja Matic made up the most formidable central midfield partnership for most of the season, and though both have suffered drops in form of late, that has in part been down to Mourinho’s reluctance to rotate his squad. The 22 players he has used across the course of the season is by a distance the fewest by any Premier League team. Fabregas and Matic have missed 2 and 3 games, respectively, whilst also starting every Champions League game and both playing major roles in the Capital One Cup triumph.
Even considering any recent downturn in Fabregas’ form, it is harsh to fault a player that has contributed as much as he has to a successful Premier League campaign for merely losing form in the season’s latter stages. Mourinho has built a functional team that has remained effective winners, regardless of their not blowing teams away as regularly. Many of their recent wins have involved sitting back and waiting for opponents to make mistakes; not the kind of football for which Fabregas is used to playing or famed for, and it makes sense that he doesn’t shine in that kind of display.
One has to remember that Fabregas has registered 16 assists this season; some 6 more than any other player and almost as many as Burnley (19), Aston Villa (18) or Sunderland (17) have managed altogether. Yes, he has now gone 4 league games without an assist, but his partner-in-crime Diego Costa (with whom he has makes the Premier League’s most effective assist-goalscorer combination, with 6 goals) has only been available for 10 minutes in those games, and Chelsea have as a whole been underperforming going forward.
<b.whoscored.com</b.whoscored.com rating has dropped from 7.92 prior to the turn of the year, to 7.27 since, indicating quite how stark that drop has been, but also how well he was playing at the beginning of the season and that he is still doing well despite the drop. His rating for the season of 7.67 ranks him third of all Premier League players behind Eden Hazard (8.04) and Alexis Sanchez (7.86), even with the ‘slump’ he has suffered.
It seems bizarre that Fabregas, the Premier League’s leading assist-maker and chance creator (2.8 per game), should miss out on the PFA’s team of the season. According to WhoScored’s ratings, Philippe Coutinho, who did make the team, has been the 28th best player this season, and the eleventh-best midfielder (of those to make 20+ appearances).
Coutinho has been wonderful to watch at times this season, and he has become integral to Liverpool since the departure of Luis Suarez and injuries suffered by Daniel Sturridge. He is amongst the best in the league for dribbles completed (3 per game) and also takes a lot of shots (2.8 per game), but with only 4 goals and 4 assists all season – even if some of them were goal of the season contenders – does that warrant team of the season inclusion? He timed his best run of form – and wondergoals against Southampton and City – well with the mid-March close to the voting, and that seems to have made a difference.
To say Fabregas has been poor for Chelsea is patently misguided. To say that his poor second half of the season is sufficient to criticise him, or to call Wenger’s decision not to sign him a wise one, are also both clearly wrong. His form has faded a little, but so has Chelsea’s style of play. They have remained winners, though, and Fabregas has played a huge role in that inevitable triumph. It is just that too many in football have extremely short memories, and Chelsea’s midfield maestro has suffered the consequences.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with their new free-to-download app