Cesc Fabregas says he had to prove Antonio Conte wrong to save his Chelsea career.
The Spaniard was initially not fancied at all by Conte, who did not believe he was a good fit for the defensive responsibilities involved in his favoured 3-4-3 system.
However, Fabregas has stepped into the breach following Nemanja Matic’s summer departure for Manchester United, and he says good old fashioned hard work is behind him earning Conte’s trust.
The player has been at his best this season as Chelsea have enjoyed a satisfying start to the season and discussing the secret to his rejuvenation, Fabregas said: “You could say freedom.
“We know the boss likes to have discipline in our system and game. In this way, we cover the pitch well. It’s working well.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried – maybe worried is not the right word.
“I wasn’t part of his initial plans. You can give up or put your head down, be humble and work hard and show him he is wrong.
“You must adapt and be always ready in training.
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“Physically… I wouldn’t say better than ever, but in the last few years I feel the fitness. I had to adapt myself, especially defensively. It’s not my biggest strength.
“Last season the boss might not have trusted me to play in a 3-4-3 but he does now.”
The Blues secured their place in the last 16 by winning at Qarabag last month and can finish top with victory over Atletico at Stamford Bridge.
“Hopefully it will be Chelsea’s year (in the Champions League),” added Fabregas, who reached the 2006 final with Arsenal and has also reached the semi-finals.
“We’ll try our best to be consistent enough to reach the final and hopefully win.”
Atletico need to win to have any chance to advance, but are reliant on Qarabag avoiding defeat at Roma to reach the draw on December 11.
If the Azerbaijan side are beaten, Atletico would fall into the Europa League, irrespective of the result at Chelsea.
Asked if that would provide additional satisfaction, given the saga surrounding Diego Costa which saw the striker return after three years at Stamford Bridge, Conte was evasive.
The Italian, who is again without defender David Luiz (knee), said: “I think we must have great respect for Atletico Madrid and for the whole team, not only for one, two, three players.
“If the whole team after (Tuesday’s) game has to play Europa League, it can happen.”